- On November 11, 2014, the Queering Slavery Working Group discussed Vincent Woodward's, The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture (2014).
Scholars of US and transatlantic slavery have largely ignored or dismissed accusations that Black Americans were cannibalized. Vincent Woodard takes the enslaved person’s claims of human consumption seriously, focusing on both the literal starvation of the slave and the tropes of cannibalism on the part of the slaveholder, and further draws attention to the ways in which Blacks experienced their consumption as a fundamentally homoerotic occurrence. The Delectable Negro explores these connections between homoeroticism, cannibalism, and cultures of consumption in the context of American literature and US slave culture.
Utilizing many staples of African American literature and culture, such as the slave narratives of Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass, as well as other less circulated materials like James L. Smith’s slave narrative, runaway slave advertisements, and numerous articles from Black newspapers published in the nineteenth century, Woodard traces the racial assumptions, political aspirations, gender codes, and philosophical frameworks that dictated both European and white American arousal towards Black males and hunger for Black male flesh. Woodard uses these texts to unpack how slaves struggled not only against social consumption, but also against endemic mechanisms of starvation and hunger designed to break them. He concludes with an examination of the controversial chain gang oral sex scene in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, suggesting that even at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, we are still at a loss for language with which to describe Black male hunger within a plantation culture of consumption.
The #TASTE Series:
- #WhatsTheTea #TheTasteSeries
On Tuesday, November 11th, at 2pm (EST), #QSWG will host an in-depth scholarly discussion of Vincent Woodard’s, The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within U.S. Slave Culture (NYU 2014). Woodard investigates both the literal and metaphoric cannibalism of African Americans by whites in the context of American slavery. The lives, narratives, and writings of Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, David Walker, Nat Turner, and Sojourner Truth, among others, form the bedrock of Woodard’s source base. He takes a fresh provocative look at some of the field’s most well known sources and refuses to shy away from the homoeroticism integral to many of the experiences of consumption he explores. Woodard highlights same-sex sexuality, desire, and erotic power dynamics to better understand the enslaved experience in the United States.
Over the course of the next week #QSWG’s Tumblr will intentionally play with the vocabulary of food preparation, consumption, and the epicure to demonstrate the ubiquity of feasting on Black bodies, souls, and lives. This vocabulary overlaps in provocative ways with the contemporary queer vocabulary that the Tumbler initially featured. Along with images culled from the period of Atlantic Slavery, the Tumblr will intentionally feature two 20th century images that play with homoerotic forms of consumption and denote nostalgia for the culture of cannibalism that Woodard investigates in his work.
We hope that you can join us as we discuss this provocative work and re-engage with the question, “What would it mean to queer slavery?”
- Live-tweets from our discussion is below: