Black Venus

Black Venus as a Depiction of How Science, Academic Knowledge and Popular Entertainment Supported White Supremacy and Colonialism in the 19th Century

Black Venus is a French film based on the true life of Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman who moved to Britain with her employer Hendrick Caezar on the promise of a better life, sharing her musical talent. Baartman became a trope for popular entertainment in Britain and France. The movie portrays the traumatic experience she endures after being coerced into letting audience members touch her body, mistreated by French scientists and later forced into prostitution as a means of survival. Black Venus is an effective educational tool because it depicts how science, academic knowledge, and popular entertainment supported white supremacy and colonialism in the 19th century through the vivid portrayal of characters in the movie believing they had a right to Saartijie Baartman’s body. (Black Venus)

The film is an effective educational tool on how science supported white supremacy and colonialism because it revealed to the audience that the science practised in the 19th century was “race science”, focused on distinguishing the white race from all other races. In the movie, the French scientist George Cuvier announces to other scientists that the examination of Baartman’s skull proves that the “Negros didn’t give birth to Egyptians whom the world has learnt science and religion from”. He concluded that the discovery justified the “cruel laws” used to oppress non-whites because the white race’s skull and brain were as voluminous as the Egyptians. (Black Venus) Likewise, in Human Exhibitions: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Ethnic Displays, Rikke argues that the black female body “served to illustrate the underdevelopment of Africans” because it was “considered an incarnation of the past that could be examined to undercover information about the development of humankind” (118). This means that scientists had preconceived notions of black females as primal human beings and believed they could prove that claim by examining their bodies. In Black Venus, the notion is present in how George Cuvier approached Caezar thinking the South African man would allow Baartman to be examined in the name of science. In addition, it is evident how Cuvier pushes Baartman, despite her resistance, to show her vagina to all the scientists because her “guardian” gave permission. (Black Venus) Cuvier’s action is significant because Baartman as a black woman is reduced to a child who can’t give consent. The consequence of Baartman being infantilized is that after her death, she is reduced to just a body for Cuvier and his team to examine, even though it would have been against her wishes. Hence, depicting how the French scientist thought they had a right to Baartman’s body and how science supported white supremacy and colonialism. 

Black Venus is also an effective educational tool on how academic knowledge in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. It makes the audience question the ethics of museum acquisition methods and the ethics of using remains as commodities. In Making Representations: Museums in the Post-Colonial Era, Simpson argues that collecting activities in the 19th century “were undertaken without regard for the spiritual beliefs of relatives or descendants, and their permission was not deemed necessary”. This means that museums collected and kept human remains without considering how the individual or the community of that individual would feel about it. This is evident in Black Venus from how after Baartman died a painful death from illness, her body was sold to Cuvier by Reaux, who did not have any right over her body. Reaux’s successful action is significant because it highlights the French scientist’s lack of ethical consideration about how Baartman’s body was acquired. In addition, Baartman’s body, particularly her buttocks and genitalia, was cut up and displayed at the Paris National History Museum until 1974, after South Africa asked for them to be returned (Black Venus). The consequence of the display was the museum profiting from having Baartman’s body seen as “abnormal” and “explained as a physical reflection of the inferiority of her race” (Rikke 117). This message that the museum profited on is significant because it questions the ethics of using remains as commodities and highlights how academic knowledge in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. 

Finally, the film is an effective educational tool on how popular entertainment in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. It depicts a large part of the British public willing to pay money to be entertained by a racist trope. Rikke argues that “Africans were considered less intelligent and more primitive than Europeans…regarded as more explicitly sexual, with more direct and animalistic…sexuality” (115). This meant Europeans felt superior to Africans and thought they were justified too because of their perceived higher intelligence and reserved behaviour. This mindset is evident in the film from how Baartman is described as a savage who Caezar has captured from Cape Town. She is forced to put on a collar, make animal noises, and is fed treats when she listens to Caezar’s command. More so, Baartman is manipulated into allowing the audience members to touch her butt to prove it is real, while Caezar praises them for being brave. The consequence of Baartman being touched and poked at without her consent is emotional trauma and dependence on alcohol. (Black Venus) The fact that Caezar used a racist trope at the expense of Baartman, forced her to be touched by the audience and that the audience abided is significant because it depicts how Caezar and the audience believed that they had a right to her body. Hence, highlights how popular entertainment in the 19th century supported white supremacy and colonialism. 

Works Cited

Andreassen, Rikke. “Human Exhibitions: Race, Gender and Sexuality in Ethnic Displays.” Taylor & Francis, Taylor & Francis, 9 Mar. 2016, http://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781315587318.

Black Venus, 1 Jan. 2010, tubitv.com/movies/476646/black_venus.

Simpson, Moira G. Making Representations: Museums in the Post-Colonial Era. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. pp. 173-189. 

Academic Book Review – Feminism For The 99%: A Manifesto

Re-envisioning Feminism

In the book, Feminism For The 99%: A Manifesto, the authors Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser discuss an intersectional, radical, anti-capitalist, decolonial, and anti-imperialist feminism that is inclusive of all, especially marginalised women called ‘Feminism for the 99%’. With organising principles and action strategies that ensure no group is sacrificed over another and that “anti-racists, environmentalists, and labour and migrant right activists” (Arruzza et al. 5) work together, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ protects the powerless and provides hope for effective change. Hence, re-envisioning feminism and the way it has been practised. This is further evident from the theses the authors discussed in the Manifesto, particularly theses 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8. 

Thesis 1 of the Manifesto states, “A new feminist wave is reinventing the strike” (Arruzza et al. 6). This refers to how ‘Feminism for the 99%’ reformed strikes, which were a form of protest only in the context of waged work, into a state of protest that withdraws labour along with housework, smiles, and sex (8). This form of protest is much more accessible to everyone from all sectors and regions. It allows for a global movement that requires little effort but has a significant impact primarily because we live in a capitalist world where labour is key to survival. By including actions related to unpaid emotional labour – housework, smiles, and sex, “the indispensable role played by gendered, unpaid work” (8) in a capitalist society, for which the system benefits but does not pay, is brought to light consequently. This deliberate attack against all types of exploitative labour is significant as it highlights that ‘Feminism for the 99%’ is radical and anti-capitalist. 

Thesis 3 of the Manifesto states, “We need an anti-capitalist feminism – a feminism for the 99%” (13). This statement is linked to how feminism today, rooted in capitalism, sacrifices the well-being of the many for the freedom of the few. For example, there has been an increased push for women to get into powerful positions, obtain a high income and establish wealth to be on the same playing fields as their male counterparts. However, this sort of feminism emphasises the individual. It assumes that a woman in power would be able to change the systemic problems that affect the lives of marginalised women worldwide. Unfortunately, that assumption is untrue as those systemic problems result from ill-capitalism. ‘Feminism for the 99%’ instead aims to work with “every movement that fights for the 99 per cent”, be it for environmental justice, “free high-quality education, generous public services, low-cost housing, labour rights, free universal health care”, anti-racism or world peace (15) to dismantle capitalism and thus tackle social justice issues from their root. Hence, once against presenting how ‘Feminism for the 99%’ is anti-capitalist. 

Thesis 4 of the Manifesto states, “What we are living through is a crisis of society as a whole – and its root cause is capitalism” (16). This means capitalism destroys anything it uses, such as nature, public goods, and human beings. As such, the political, economic, ecological, and social justice issues the world is facing are caused by capitalism. One example is the refugee crisis – marginalised folks are displaced daily due to war, violent conflicts, and environmental disasters. These circumstances that result in the displacement of marginalised folks are rooted in ill-capitalism, such as how companies pollute the air and water sources at the expense of people for profit, and similarly, how countries export arms to volatile regions for the sack of profit. Canada is one country that profits from the violent conflicts that cause displacement. Yet, Canada believes itself to be a country that practices “humanitarian exceptionalism” because it presents itself as a haven for displaced people and is more benevolent than the United States regarding accepting refugees. However, Canada predominately takes exceptional refugees, such as community organisers and activists. Furthermore, it employs immigration laws that discriminate against refugees based on race, sexuality, and ability (Phu et al. 29). Unfortunately, Canada’s performative action is also rooted in ill-capitalism, as the nation is driven by its desire to push an international and local political narrative of an “international leader in human rights and democratic freedom” (29) at the expense of vulnerable human beings. Hence, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ argues that by eliminating capitalism based on exploiting others, we can efficiently work on putting an end to the problems facing our Earth.

Thesis 6 of the manifesto states, “Gender violence takes many forms, all of them entangle with capitalist social relations. We vow to fight them all.” (Arruzza et al. 25). Capitalist social relations refer to the social links that occur under capitalism, between an employee and an employer or between intimate partners. In addition, due to the different aspects of private and work life, women are subjected to violations both at the hands of family and personal intimates and at the hands of “capital’s enforcers and enablers” (28). One example of a capitalist social relationship where gender violence is present and common is between women migrant workers and their employers. Although borders are not fixed and thoroughly ideological, they produce “hard workers” (Anderson et al. 7). This is because immigrants must work hard to keep their status in the country, which their employers have over them as citizens. The power that citizens have over migrants puts these female migrant workers in vulnerable and dangerous situations, such as when their bosses or managers in factories, for example, “use serial rape, verbal abuse, and humiliating body searches to increase productively and discourage labour organising” (Arruzza et al. 32) because they endure the mistreatment for fear of being deported. Borders, and consequentially, nationalised identities, which are colonial as most settlers do not have rights to the land they claim, are “a key strategy in dividing and subordinating labour” (Anderson et al. 13). Thus, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ which aims to fight all forms of gender violence, such as those that occur due to the construction of borders, is anti-colonial. 

Thesis 8 of the manifesto states, “Capitalism was born from racist and colonial violence. Feminism for the 99 per cent is anti-racist and anti-imperialist” (Arruzza et al. 40). This means that the foundation of capitalism is racism and colonialism. Thus any feminism that does not actively dismantles capitalism would be enabling racism and colonialism. Unfortunately, this failure was present in the first, second, and third wave feminisms. First-wave feminism was liberal feminism and focused on getting women the vote. However, Black women and their needs were excluded in the process. White chosen stead choose to dissociate themselves from white men and argued that racism was “endemic to white male patriarchy” and that they could not be “held responsible for racist oppression” (“Chapter 4: Racism and Feminism: The Issue of Accountability”). Consequentially, this ignorance from white women during the first wave of feminism birthed Black Feminism, a philosophy that “motivated black feminists to work against their multilayered oppression” and to challenge “white feminists to acknowledge their exclusion of women of colour and working-class women in the feminist movement” (“The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)”). This effort to include racialised and working-class women is also present in ‘Feminism for the 99%’. On the other hand, second-wave feminism, which was radical and concerned about racism, failed to include transgender and non-binary people in the conversation. Lastly, third-wave feminism, which is post-modern feminism, was focused on social media, digital space, and the representation of women. Although it began being more inclusive, it supported ill-capitalism by encouraging women to obtain high positions,

Overall, ‘Feminism for the 99%’ attempts to re-envision feminism. It is intersectional, radical, anti-capitalist, decolonial, anti-imperialist, and inclusive, especially for marginalised women. It challenges all that we have been accustomed to when we discuss and engage with feminism by enforcing organising principles and action strategies that emphasise no group is sacrificed over another, that all activist and community organisers need to work together, and that capitalism has to be dismantled for long-standing effective change to happen. While this is one way to re-envision feminism and its movements, as a manifesto, it oversimplifies the severe hostility against feminists and feminism, especially today.

Work Cited

Arruzza, Cinzia, et al. Feminism for The 99%: A Manifesto. Verso, 2019. 

Anderson, Bridget, et al. “Editorial: Why No Borders?” Refuge, vol. 26, no. 2, 1 Jan. 2009, pp. 5–18., doi: https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.32074. 

“Chapter 4: Racism and Feminism: The Issue of Accountability.” Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, by Bell Hooks, Routledge, 2015, pp. 119–158. 

Phu, Thy, Vinh Nguyen, et al. “STATES OF REFUGE: KEYWORDS FOR CRITICAL REFUGEE STUDIES.” Sept. 2019. “The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977).” Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s), by Joy S. Ritchie and Kate Ronald, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001, pp. 291–300.

Media Representation of Drug Addiction and How it Perpetuates Stereotypes

Amy Winehouse. Cory Monteith. Prince. Mac Miller. Philip Seymour Hoffman. One commonality that these individuals have is that they were all celebrities who passed away from an overdose. In general, the media talked about the great work they did, the work they would be living behind, and how their significant others would miss them. Overall, celebrities who have a drug addiction are depicted as worthy victims [1](Herman and Chomsky, 2002). The way the media represents celebrity addicts usually gives them justification for their drug addiction because of the high stress they experience from their lives being constantly in public. In addition, the media never portrays being a drug user as their primary identity.

Unfortunately, everyday individuals who suffer from drug addiction don’t have such privilege. They are deemed unworthy victims [2](Herman and Chomsky, 2002) of society if they suffer from addiction, which is a disease. This means that society takes little concern that these individuals need reformed government policies and a changed societal perception to help them battle their disease. This is evident, for example, from the increased number of raw, uncensored videos of people “passed out with needles in their arms” [3](Seelye et al., 2018) posted on YouTube. One such video was an instance when Mandy McGowan collapsed from a fentanyl overdose in a Dollar Store she had visited with her 2-year-old daughter. The fact that when the situation occurred, people began taking a video of her unconscious instead of attending to her sobbing daughter highlights the lack of disregard for drug addicts. The consequences of the lack of disregard are severe too. McGowan is known as a “Dollar Store Junkie” and now struggles with addiction and the negative image of herself from a video of one of the most challenging moments of her life that shall live on the internet forever. [4](Seelye et al., 2018)

This treatment of people suffering from addiction, the way society views addicts as unworthy victims and how they have been represented in the media are significant because it creates a massive stigma of addiction. This makes it harder for addicts to seek out the help they need to battle the addiction, thus contributing to a cycle.

However, there is hope. Apart from the Canadian Harm Reduction Network, which promotes harm reduction as a means of focusing on “the harm caused by problematic substance use, rather than substance use per se” [5](City of Vancouver, 2017), other organisations are fighting to remove the stigma of addiction in society as one of the ways to help people battling addiction. One such example is the provincewide campaign by the British Columbia Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in association with the Vancouver Canucks hockey team [6] (Ghoussoub, 2018) to show that an individual with an addiction identity as a drug user is just one among the many identities that link them to a community such as “daughter”, “co-worker” and “student”. In addition, health authorities such as Northern Health, Fraser Health, and First Nations Health Authority are working to reduce the stigma of addiction and prevent overdose by highlighting narratives about the impact of negative stereotypes around the disease [7] (Government Communications, 2017).

(First year, 2018)

References

Ghoussoub, M. (2018, January 29). Vancouver Canucks launch campaign to fight stigma surrounding addiction | CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-canucks-launch-campaign-to-fight-stigma-surrounding-addiction-1.4509402

Government Communications. (2017, September 07). Reducing Stigma. Retrieved from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/overdose/reducing-stigma

Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

Seelye, K. Q., et al. (2018, December 11). How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/us/overdoses-youtube-opioids-drugs.html

City of Vancouver. (2017, January 20). Four Pillars drug strategy. Retrieved from https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/four-pillars-drug-strategy.aspx


[1]Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

[2] Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

[3] Seelye, K. Q., et al. (2018, December 11). How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/us/overdoses-youtube-opioids-drugs.html

[4] Seelye, K. Q., et al. (2018, December 11). How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/us/overdoses-youtube-opioids-drugs.html

[5] City of Vancouver. (2017, January 20). Four Pillars drug strategy. Retrieved from https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/four-pillars-drug-strategy.aspx

[6] Ghoussoub, M. (2018, January 29). Vancouver Canucks launch campaign to fight stigma surrounding addiction | CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-canucks-launch-campaign-to-fight-stigma-surrounding-addiction-1.4509402

[7] Government Communications. (2017, September 07). Reducing Stigma. Retrieved from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/overdose/reducing-stigma