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What does Davis mean when she argues that "...

the oppression of black slave women necessarily
incorporated open forms of counter-insurgency..."?
In her essay, “Reflections on the Black Woman‟s Role in the Community of Slaves,” Angela
Davis aims to dispel the stereotype that black women are „matriarchal‟, in this context, meaning
that they are „aggressive‟ and „castrating‟. An example of the propagandizing of this stereotype
is American sociologist Collin Moynihan‟s report. In his report, Moynihan states that matriarchal
families amongst African Americans originated during the slave era, and are the source of all
problems in the black community. However, taking a closer look to the slave era, “family” is
barely applicable to the units that slaves were grouped into. In fact, most of these “families” were
made up of strangers, with the sole purpose the procreation of more child laborers. Davis
concludes that matriarchy could not develop from the slave era, as there were no families for a
matriarch to hold power over. Additionally, slave owners suppressed all notions of power and
authority from slaves whether male or female. Slavers withheld all power for fear that any power
allowed to the slaves would be turned against their oppressors as an act of rebellion.
However, black women‟s lack of authority should not be confused with passivity. Additionally,
many infer that the lack of documentation on black women in slave history is a sign of
unassertiveness. Counter insurgency is introduced here to prove that black women had an active
role in resisting the oppressors of their community. Counter insurgency, by definition, designates
a ruling class trying to quell an uprising, or „insurgency‟, against it. Slave owners participated in
counter insurgency against black women, defining these women as a legitimate and active
resistance against their oppressors. This resistance is backed up by many historical examples in
the essay, where black women received merciless punishments for their acts of rebellion.
I believe we can also explore rape as a method of counter insurgency, both against the individual
woman and her entire community. At the individual level, rape entails the breaching of
biological defenses which strips away the woman insurgent‟s ability for resistance, rendering her
vulnerable. Davis claims that rape, in this context, evokes a sovereign emphasizing his power
over his servants, by taking advantage of their wives. It is thus that the woman‟s violation
becomes a vector for reinforcing the slavers‟ authority on the rest of the slave community.