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The graphic language used by former slaves in their narratives conjures images of monstrous masters and insatiable market economies.
In The Delectable Negro: Human Consumptions and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture, Vincent Woodard takes seriously how various slave narratives accuse masters and slaves of consuming black bodies.
This book pushes back against some of the more ‘sugar-coated ‘ notions of plantation culture circulating in the US imagination.
Four hundred years of slavery is impulsively historicized and marketed as a time of ‘benevolent masters’ and ‘well-fed pickaninnies,’ but Woodard’s work relentlessly exposes the disquieting truth of this nation’s involvement in the market of human flesh.
The examples from which Woodard draws will be familiar to scholars of the US Antebellum South, but what will likely be new for all readers is Woodard’s understanding of these examples as symptoms of modern cannibalism.
The Delectable Negro is a crucial contribution to the fields of American studies, African-American studies, Anthropology, English, and History.
Readers will encounter classic slave narratives, non-fictional biographical materials, novels, criticism, and legal documentation used as examples throughout.
While one may hold on to a degree of skepticism when starting this text, the sheer quantity of examples, dating as early as the 16th century, will leave readers questioning the impulse to discount the evidence and reckon with larger questions concerning our shared humanity and inhuman ways.
To that end, Woodard’s work successfully holds us accountable to a dark and twisted not-so-distant past by encouraging readers to understand the enslavement of black bodies in a language we can all speak—hunger and the desire to eat.
In the Introduction to The Delectable Negro, Woodard presents the terms and phrases that will be used throughout the text in various contexts, involving a variety of subjects, and deployed across a vast array of events occurring between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries.
“Consumption” in this text, while it does include within its definition literal documented accounts of cannibalism, is for the most part deployed metaphorically.
The consumption of black male slaves by white men, Woodard argues, “was a natural by-product of their physical, emotional, and spiritual hunger for” the black male.
Many of the accounts of interracial, same-sex relations included in The Delectable Negro are plagued by a fear of emasculation that was thought to be inevitable once the association between black flesh and sexuality was said out loud.
Thus, due to a history of silence around this subject, it becomes important to involve a concept that sees silence as speaking volumes: homoeroticism, Woodard explains, “serves as a referent for a large set of same-sex desires and intimacies that include romantic friendship among men, same-sex incest in the context of plantation patriarchy, the romanticization of and exoticization of whiteness, and literal and metaphoric cannibalism.”
Additionally, if the idea of “hunger” is to account for voluntary or coerced auto-cannibalism and self-consumption, what Woodard sets forth is a framework that could account for almost any conceivable interracial male-on-male interaction.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa is a terrifying yet perfect example of a slave narrative whose hero fears being cannibalized by Europeans.
Chapter One of The Delectable Negro, “Cannibalism in Transatlantic Context,” uses Equiano’s tale in order to bridge together white male cultures of slave breaking and religious conversion with Enlightenment period humanism, highlighting the inhumanity of the former and the hypocrisy of the latter.
Equiano’s is a story of a heathen African made civil by the grace of a benevolent white man with whom Equiano becomes romantically involved. Equiano’s fortunate circumstance allows him to see the enlightenment principles of Europe and white acts of human parasitism as separate processes entirely.
But when the threat of cannibalism becomes actualized as described in Chapter Two, “Sex, Honor, and Human Consumption,” “the ungraspable margin” between “the objective” of humanist principles and “the real” butchering and tasting of black male flesh becomes even harder to discern.
Such is the case with the Kentucky slave owner, Lilburn Lewis, and his slaves. Lewis would have gone to trial for the consumption of one of his slaves but instead committed suicide, thus shrouding in mystery the complete details of the event as documented by Lydia Marie Child.
The entire ordeal was handled with a “tentativeness” that Woodard sees as telling of the true relationship between white male honor and the consumption of black
male slaves in the US Antebellum South.
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The Delectable Negro By Vincent Woodard Book PDF Free Download