Books

With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.

The Other Slavery

The-Other-Slavery-cover

The Other Slavery by Andres Resendez

My first feelings about the Native or First Nation Americans come in waves of visualizations. The names different tribes gave to the months: Geese Flying Moon; Strawberry Moon. They conjure up colours and movements come alive upon infinite midnight plains.

The cruelty of European settlers intervenes. My reading on the topic of the traumatic loss of land and life of the Native Americans is not expansive; having read classic historical texts like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, or novels like Lousie Erdrich's Tracks, however, patterns repeat from the conquest of Africa: Christian missionaries and dehumanization, setting up camp to save the indigenous savages from themselves. I knew about the repetitive nature of broken deals as the Native Americans steadily got pushed further and further into deadening reservations, while sadistic officials used white Western legalize to manipulate one illusion of mutual benefit after another, leaving the indigenous tribes eventually with nothing.

However, I didn't know about the slavery, and for Andres Resendez's The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, I'm grateful. Resendez notes the 'neat historical package' that most people grow up with: 'Africans were enslaved, and Indians either died off or were dispossessed and confined to reservations'. The myth of the dying off is one Resendez addresses early: he notes of the central American islands where Columbus first landed, that before the intervention of smallpox from the explorers, most of the population had already been wiped out: 'one year before Europeans began reporting smallpox, Espanola's Indian population had dwindled to five per cent or less of what it had been in 1492. Clearly, the Native islander were well on their way to a total demographic collapse when smallpox appeared to deliver the coup de grace.'

The indigenous peoples, we learn from Resendez's research, had been worked to death, as Columbus tried to justify the massive expenditure on travelling to the 'New World.' Native populations, across what we consider north America and the Caribbean basin, eventually saw their populations collapse by as much as 90%. Much of this tragic narrative is created through the greed and cruelty of the settlers: silver mines in Mexico, the gold rush in California, and more generally, domestic and agricultural servitude, all contributed to an estimate of 2.5-5 million Native Americans enslaved. Adding complexity are the traditions of enslavement that occurred between tribes before European colonization, but they had been nothing on this scale before. With the advent of the Europeans, slavery went industrial.

Issues of gender in this narrative are also interesting to note: Resendez shows how female and child slaves were worth much more than male, in opposite to African slaves where the majority shipped over were adult males, 'Indian women could be worth up to fifty or sixty percent more than males'. Yet both male and female slaves appear to have suffered horribly: '[men and women were] led away in chains, bound for central and southern Mexico. The most dangerous were shipped to Cuba. The sight of these lines of Indians tied to one another became all too familiar to contemporaries . . . They also forced the Indians to walk for hours on end in order to wear them down and prevent any escape attempts. Terrible abuse arose from the fact that the majority of the prisoners were women and children, at the mercy of male soldiers . . .

Resendez tries to find positive outcomes from this horrific history in terms of general policy making. One is understanding the durability of slavery in its myriad different forms. The kind we associate with 'chattel' slavery, like that suffered by Africans, is just one expression; others forms include indentured 'peonage' and criminalization which allow those incarcerated to work for free, for convenient fixed terms of wage-less labour. These kinds of slavery happen today, not least in the USA's prison system, as well as with some forms of sex work and with illegal immigrants. Resendez says we have to understand that slavery didn't come and go between a few centuries, in one particular way. His conclusion, difficult to deny given his documentation of its different, recognizable structures, is that it's always been there, and its dynamic, many-headed forms mean our protection of people against slavery also has to be dynamic and fluid.

Finally, though, what of the Native Americans themselves? Resendez doesn't come up with a positive note – perhaps there is none? But perhaps they'll re-emerge from this historical trauma, if enough research and recognition emerges for the universal apology they deserve, and for this, Resendez's work is doubly important.
Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain
Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Umoja Noble
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Guest
Friday, 04 December 2020

Captcha Image

What's On This Week

My Latest Posts

November 17, 2020

If I were to detransition, this is what I would write

Warning: this is a speculative piece of writing, not an official announcement, although I have recently begun to imagine an 'ideological' detransition (from trans woman to GNC male). Here, I'm trying to articulate and reflect on my thoughts and feelings, and imagining myself from a different perspective. In this post, I'm Gina v...
November 17, 2020

Trans Hell-thcare

The picture accompanying this post is important to me. I took it yesterday, 16 November 2020, unsure what I'd find. It's been nearly eleven months since I came off oestrogen for reasons I'll get into in a moment. Undoubtedly this has had an effect on me, bodily and therefore psychologically, but the accompanying selfie gives me a reassura...
October 17, 2020

What if gender-critical feminism came to power?

This scenario is inspired by a dialogue I had yesterday evening with a gender-critical feminist just before I went to bed. Here is what I dreamed: In the summer of 2021, the Conservative minister Liz Truss introduces legislation, making women-only spaces legally accessible only to those born female. This U.K. law includes a provision for funding al...
October 13, 2020

Responses to my blog post (1)

A frustrating aspect of my website is that when people write in, there's no trace of an email address so no way of getting back to people, and also no way of publishing their messages. However, I received such a nice response to my article just now that I'd like to include it here. It's from some who for the sake of confidentiality (in case it's ne...
October 11, 2020

On adopting a more gender-critical transgender activism

On adopting a more gender-critical transgender activism Note to the reader: This post is intended as a contribution to addressing the current tensions between transgender activism and gender-critical feminism. The way I see myself in relation to female i dentity, and the ideas I express here, are not a prescription for other trans women. The t...
May 11, 2020

The Book of Queer Prophets, curated by Ruth Hunt

in Books

  The Book of Queer Prophets: 24 Writers on Sexuality and Religion The historically fraught relationship between Abrahamic religions and LGBT+ identities provides the backdrop to The Book of Queer Prophets , a collection of twenty-four meditations by public figures who identify as both religious and LGBT+. The book's curator, the for...
May 09, 2020

Queer/Transgender short film: Mesmeralda

Joshua Matteo's short film, Mesmeralda , merging horror with esoterica, is now out on youtube . As with his previous work Metanoia , we see youthful trans actors racing through the empty streets of a moonlit New York, haunted by symbols and stalked by a masked figure of violent intentions. Mesmeralda , as described by Matteo, is the companion ...
March 08, 2020

Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare

Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare Summer, 2016: Gina's Big Bang, as transitioning begins A bureaucratic question in a sun-lit room. My medical practitioner asks me if I intend to have children. The question lingers, but the self-loathing is instant. No, I won't be having children. The practitioner nods. She moves on to the n...
November 10, 2019

General Election

General Election 12 December 2019 I spent the last election in an office, alone but for the company of a colleague. We watched the BBC's coverage while I drank wine, downbeat and expecting austerity and the absence of hope to triumph. Then we saw the exit poll and hung around, disbelieving at the sight of the kindled embers and lukewarm glow of a f...