THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Women and Slavery
WEEK III / DAY II
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Scripture / Mark 5:25-34
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Our History and Its Legacy:
For male and female enslaved Africans, slavery was equally devastating. Both were torn from families, beaten mercilessly, and seen as property in the eyes of the law. Despite these and many common factors, the circumstances of enslavement differed for men and women. As the PBS series on slavery points out: “Although most planters in colonial North America favored robust young men as slaves, the bulk of these were shipped to the West Indies, whose sugar crops dominated the international trade economy. Early on, slave buyers in the colonies turned to purchasing female field hands, who were not only more readily available, but also cheaper.” Eventually females outnumbered males in the less skilled areas of field work alongside their common role as domestic workers.
In Africa, a woman’s primary social role was as mother, but during enslavement this role became lessened and commercialized. Women and children, including wives, were seen as property of the slave owner and were often split from their husbands during purchase. Throughout slavery in America, the perception of the ideal white woman as modest and chaste was often compared to the over-sexualized perception of female enslaved Africans as objects of both derision and fantasy. The average enslaved female gave birth to her first child at 19 years and another every 2.5 years thereafter — many pregnancies were the result of the sexual violence perpetrated against them at the hand of the slave owner. It was in the slave master’s economic interest for enslaved females to bear more children as it increased their potential workforce. Despite having multiple children to care for, most enslaved females were expected to return to work immediately after childbirth and to continue to put the needs of the master’s children above those of their own. Many women, when faced with the option to escape with their male counterparts, chose to stay and endure these unrelenting, dehumanizing conditions so as not to be separated from their children. For more, see PBS series on slavery.
Negative stereotypes of African-American women that began in slavery can still be seen today in the perpetuation of the so-called “angry Black woman,” unconscious bias about what a “typical” leader looks like, and racialized notions of Black women as caregivers. For more, see Center for American Progress Report.
Reflection and Response
In this story in Mark recounting the woman suffering from bleeding, we see Jesus acknowledging a woman who is not only physically suffering but is being marginalized by the community around her. He tenderly addresses her as “daughter” (the only woman in the gospels to receive this honor), reminding us and her that she is loved and seen even through the years of suffering that she has endured. As male and female we are all given our gender as a gift and as a reflection of the Divine. As we acknowledge the isolation and prejudice that so many Black women still experience today, let’s take a moment to confess our own conscious or unconscious assumptions about gender. Where have we sought to dehumanize or objectify another because of their gender or race? Where have we contributed to the theft of another’s dignity or respect by our thoughts, words, or actions? Let’s invite God to give us His eyes for one another that we might see one another as the glorious creations He has made.
Written by Erin Clifford