.. posed to the physically, emotionally, and spiritually oppressive horrors of a life spent in slavery. Beloved is full of ideologies that the dominate white group uses to keep the blacks down. There are also examples of gendered racism and oppositional culture, as these blacks try and survive the ideologies of the whites. Beloved gives us potent images of the gender racism perpetrated by Schoolteacher, a brutal overseer, and his nephews in their rape of the slave woman Sethe. What was stolen from Sethe was her sense of herself as a woman deserving of protection and respect from men.
Sethe’s rape defiles her before both black and white men. Her husband, Halle, watching from a secret place, goes mad from impotent rage. He’s impotent to do anything about it. This is an example of gendered racism. Sethe is raped at the hands of white men and can do nothing about it.
Sethe has no way to seek compensation for what she endured; the men are her “superiors” and know that they can get away with this rape. If Sethe were a white woman this crime would not have blown over so easily. This is not to say that white indentured servants where never raped, but it is because Sethe was black that made here condition so hopeless and without remedy. The whites had many ideologies that justified the cruel abuse that they put on black slaves. These ideologies obviously make it easier for the slave owners to mistreat their slaves.
A good example of a basic ideology that the whites had can be found on page 190 of Beloved. Schoolteacher is accusing Sixo of stealing some shoat, Sixo insists that he didn’t steal it. He admits that he ate it and then gives his explanation for doing so: Sixo plant rye to give the high piece a better chance. Sixo take and feed the soil, give you more crop. Sixo take and feed Sixo give you more work.
Clever, but Schoolteacher beat him anyway to show him that definitions belonged to the definers–not the defined. Sixo tells him that he is just trying to improve Schoolteacher’s property. Schoolteacher has to put him in his place, telling him in a sense, “Don’t think that,” the white man will think and instruct for him. This is an ideology that is seen throughout this time, that the white man will dictate everything that the slaves do, from eating, working, sleeping, family issues and sexual issues. Another example of the ideologies that where created by the whites is found on page 151.
Here you see one way that the whites justified their actions. Sethe has just killed her baby and tried to kill her boys and Denver to keep them from the life Sethe fears at sweet home. Placing her children outside the horror of slavery, even if it meant taking their lives, was in her mind a justified act of love, nothing more. Schoolteacher has just left this disturbing scene, we then read: All testimony to the results of a little so-called freedom imposed on people who needed every care and guidance in the world to keep them from the cannibal life they preferred. Here the whites justify the enslaving of blacks by saying that they are incapable of handling freedom, and need to be taken care of by the white “civilized” people. This is an ideology that puts the blacks below the whites, and even below the level of a human being. The last example of an ideology that I will site is found on page 237. This is where schoolteacher is teaching the boys. He has asked them to describe one of the slaves. One of the boys is describing Sethe. Schoolteacher tells them to put “human characteristics on the left; her animal ones on the right.” This is where the ideologies take root in society.
Schoolteacher is putting it into the minds of these young white boys that the slaves are animals–or at least less than fully human. This will aid these young boys in their future abuse of blacks. These boys will grow with an ideology that they are superior to all blacks and that you can treat the blacks as animals. In order to endure the ideologies that the whites had, the blacks would create an oppositional culture that would serve as a shield against the discrimination and abuse that they suffered at the hands of the whites. An example of oppositional culture can be found on page 88 of Beloved.
Here Baby Suggs preaches the gospel of love in the clearing: “a wide open space cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what.”: In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it.
They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off, and leave empty.
Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! This beautiful speech given by Baby Suggs tells her people that they need to love, she gets specific using references to the whites not loving them. Her sermon does not advocate a heaven delayed until death, but the promise of a better life on earth, but that life must come from the people themselves. Another way the blacks would deal with these white ideologies was through song.
There is the song that Sethe sings that her mother sang to her about button eyes (pg. 100). There were the songs Paul D would sing that he learned on the chain gang (Pg. 49-50). Song has been a way for the black people to escape, from their oppression up to present day.
Song has taken them to another place and let them tell their story. Black Like Me and Beloved both sing of the oppression that the white people have put on the blacks. From Griffin being talked to as though he was less than human to Sethe being beaten and raped while pregnant. These graphic illustrations of how institutional discrimination and ideologies in the past have enabled and condoned the terrible treatment white society gave this people may be more crude and open than the prejudice that often exists in American society today, but the difference in outward manifestation is one of degree only–the institutional and ideological bases are still there condoning and sanctioning the unequal treatment accorded blacks in our society today. And the resulting harm to black society, children and adult is still there–often just as scarring and harmful as the earlier physical beatings, rapes, and physical separation. Black songs still today evoke the pain and suffering that institutional discrimination, gender racism, and discriminatory ideology have left on black society in America. Those songs are a force for the black people still today–a way for them to remember and deal with their past and hope for their future. Ben Harper sings: Exactly how much will have to burn Before we will look to the past and learn We walk along this endless path Which has led us in a circle So here we are right back We can’t let our future become our past If we are to change the world Won’t you tell me Tell me please How many miles must we march When I was a baby I was not prejudice Hey how about you This was something that I learned in school Something they taught us to do We can’t let our future become our past If we are to change the world.