Vogue and Sara Baartman and a Poem

This morning, I woke hours before my alarm. It sometimes takes me a little bit to realise whether I’m awake because of anxiety, adequate rest, or low blood sugar. Often, I struggle to get back to sleep until I figure out which one, and address it (if possible). Sometimes I never get back to sleep.

Rather than lie in the dark waiting, I checked the time on my phone, and noticed I had a notification on Twitter. I checked that, and spotted a tweet from someone I follow about an article posted by Vogue Magazine, titled “We’re Officially in the Era of the Big Booty”:

Vogue tweet 09-10-2014
The original tweet from Vogue Magazine’s Twitter account

The article is as bad, if not worse, as I anticipated. And one of my first thoughts was about Sara Baartman.

For those who don’t know about her, I encourage you to read about her, though I warn that the story is a hard one if you dig deeper into it. Sara was a young African woman in colonial South Africa who was sold into English and then French hands, and displayed as a sideshow attraction under the demeaning name “Hottentot Venus” until she died six years later. After her death, her body was given to a scientist for dissection. He concluded that Sara—and other Africans like her—was subhuman, and her skeleton, brain, and detached genitals were displayed at the Musée del’Homme for the next 150 years. But even once they were removed, it took 20 years of fighting for her body to be returned to South Africa and finally laid to rest.

I could not go back to sleep, because I felt sick with anxiety and sorrow and anger, and so I wrote a poem.

 

Mourning the Living and the Dead

today, I mourn the life and death of Sara Baartman
my rage at the indignities she suffered
rests at the base of my throat
chokes my voice with tears unshed
today, I cannot strangle down my anger for her
Sara, Saartjie, name unknown
forced from family after her fiancé’s murder
she was a slave sold to sideshows
spending six years poked and prodded
examined and talked over and mocked
lied to, looked on, lost
this woman of six and twenty years
dead
it is 200 years since she passed
from alcohol or pneumonia
or a broken heart
and even in death disrespected
dissected
her most intimate parts displayed in jars
as curios for detached Europeans
to view
this history of colonial gaze
of taking and keeping and displaying
the most intimate parts
continues to this day
the roundness of Sara’s body fascinated
and repulsed the gazers
now vogue divorces this largeness from Blackness
makes it safe for mainstream commodification
makes it safe by denying Black women again
taking this aspect of our bodies
claiming our identities for themselves
passing profit over our heads
and leaving us to die like Sara
alone
the world is not safe for my sisters
I know
so I am left to mourn

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s