Black Female 'Things' in International Law: A Meditation on Saartjie Baartman and Truganini
BLACK WOMEN AND INTERNATIONAL LAW: NEW THEORY, OLD PRAXIS (Jeremy Levitt, ed., Cambridge University Press) (2013)
39 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2012 Last revised: 26 Mar 2013
Date Written: July 1, 2012
Through the figures of Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus, and Truganini, the “last Tasmanian Aboriginal,” this Chapter explores the contrasts between the historic status of black women as chattel (“not-human” things) and their choices and actions in pursuit of the “things” of importance to them. The “choices” made by these women add complexity to the understanding of the nature of “choice” in international law, with particular relevance to the discussion of “choice” and “consent” in the global struggle against human exploitation. The Chapter also addresses Saartjie Baartman’s and Trugannini’s roles in relation to their contemporaneous and contemporary communities. Their bodies “proved” the scientific bases of “natural” racial hierarchies and subordination. The stories of their exploitation cemented the theoretical foundations of the expansion of positivist theories of international law, and illustrate the co-existence of freedom and enslavement.
Keywords: Hottentot Venus, Saartjie Bartman, Truganini, black women, choice, consent, subordination, scientific racism, Celadon Code, Tasmanian Aboriginal, Australia, indigenous women
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation