The Black Reproductive

Unfree Labor and Insurgent Motherhood

2021
Author:

Sara Clarke Kaplan

How Black women’s reproduction became integral to white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy—and remains key to their dismantling

Sara Clarke Kaplan argues that even as Black reproduction has been deployed to resolve the conflicting demands of white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy, it also holds the potential to destabilize these oppressive systems. She convenes Black literary and cultural studies with feminist and queer theory to read twentieth- and twenty-first-century texts and images alongside their pre-emancipation counterparts.

The Black Reproductive is a stunning work of theory and criticism. Sara Clarke Kaplan skillfully shows us how the appropriation, management, and policing of Black procreative, domestic, and quotidian reproduction has been a key mode of anti-blackness and, at the same time, a site of possibility for the articulation and practice of Black freedom. With keen attention to a wide range of policies, practices, and Black feminist refusals of the Black reproductive, Kaplan unfolds a moving story of the Black woman’s body and its reproductive labor as the scene of death and theft but also defiance and fugitivity. This brilliant elaboration of the Black reproductive not only challenges our concepts for analyzing anti-black terror but also reveals how Black women writers and artists effect a glitch in the machine of the Black reproductive, the very machine of terror. This is deep, urgent, moving scholarship for our time.

Erica R. Edwards, Rutgers University

In the United States, slavery relied on the reproduction and other labors of unfree Black women. Nearly four centuries later, Black reproductivity remains a vital technology for the creation, negotiation, and transformation of sexualized and gendered racial categories. Yet even as Black reproduction has been deployed to resolve the conflicting demands of white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy, Sara Clarke Kaplan argues that it also holds the potential to destabilize the oppressive systems it is supposed to maintain.

The Black Reproductive convenes Black literary and cultural studies with feminist and queer theory to read twentieth- and twenty-first-century texts and images alongside their pre-emancipation counterparts. These provocative, unexpected couplings include how Toni Morrison’s depiction of infanticide regenders Orlando Patterson’s theory of social death, and how Mary Prince’s eighteenth-century fugitive slave narrative is resignified through the representational paradoxes of Gayl Jones’s blues novel Corregidora. Throughout, Kaplan offers new perspectives on Black motherhood and gendered labor, from debates over the relationship between President Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, to the demise of racist icon Aunt Jemima, to discussions of Black reproductive freedom and abortion.

The Black Reproductive gives vital insight into the historic and ongoing conditions of Black unfreedom, and points to the possibilities for a Black feminist practice of individual and collective freedom.

Sara Clarke Kaplan is associate professor of ethnic studies and critical gender studies at the University of California, San Diego, and cofounder of UCSD’s Black Studies Project. Her writing has been published in a number of journals, including American Quarterly, American Literary History, Callaloo, and the Journal of Black Women, Gender, and Families.

The Black Reproductive is a stunning work of theory and criticism. Sara Clarke Kaplan skillfully shows us how the appropriation, management, and policing of Black procreative, domestic, and quotidian reproduction has been a key mode of anti-blackness and, at the same time, a site of possibility for the articulation and practice of Black freedom. With keen attention to a wide range of policies, practices, and Black feminist refusals of the Black reproductive, Kaplan unfolds a moving story of the Black woman’s body and its reproductive labor as the scene of death and theft but also defiance and fugitivity. This brilliant elaboration of the Black reproductive not only challenges our concepts for analyzing anti-black terror but also reveals how Black women writers and artists effect a glitch in the machine of the Black reproductive, the very machine of terror. This is deep, urgent, moving scholarship for our time.

Erica R. Edwards, Rutgers University

If the control of Black reproduction has been central to conditions of Black subjection, Sara Clarke Kaplan’s The Black Reproductive argues that a vision of Black freedom requires contending with the reproductive. She stages provocative readings of literary and cultural texts that emphasize the urgency of reading Black freedom through the lens of reproduction. Ultimately, Kaplan offers a vision of Black feminist theory that points us toward imagining collective freedom.

Jennifer C. Nash, Duke University

Contents


Introduction: Toward a Black Feminist Politics of Freedom


1. Ain’t Your Mama on the Pancake Box?: Aunt Jemima and the Reproduction of the Racial State


2. Love and Violence/Maternity and Death: Enslaved Infanticide and Monstrous Motherhood in Toni Morrison’s Beloved


3. Hysterical Bodies as Embodied History: Corregidora’s Genealogy of Resistance


4. Our Founding (M)Other: Sally Hemings and the Problem of Miscegenation


5. “A Picture of Me and my Mother”: Planned Parenthood, Precious, and the Rationalization of Black Reproductivity


Coda: Lest We Forget: A Litany for Survival


Acknowledgments


Notes


Index