Dear Sarah Baartman, I am sorry.
What else can American society, no, the world say to Sarah Baartman if they had a chance to speak to her? I am sorry should easily roll off of people’s tongues. However, if all the nations combined and screamed I’m sorry to her, that wouldn’t be enough. If you do not know who Sarah Baartman is, she was a Black woman who was ridiculed in her life and in death. Her story goes:
Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman was born 1789 in Gamtoos River, South Africa. She was working as a slave in Cape Town when the British, Dr. William Dunlop, manipulated her to coming with them to London, France. They told her if she did, they would not enslave her village. Sarah agreed, never knowing that she will not be able to come back home, or become the icon for Black females sexuality. Of course, there was a huge communication gap between Sarah and the British, but they still took her knowing that she didn’t completely understand the severity of their agreement. The question is, why would the British make such an agreement with an African woman instead of just taking her? Sarah’s body was very, what we call today, voluptuous. She had huge breast and buttocks, which wasn’t uncommon for Khoisan women. British men had never seen a woman shaped like her and their curiosity lead them to humiliate and exploit Sarah sexually. Her body became a justification for the theory that Black women were over sexed and biologically different from White women.
Once on the ship, Sarah’s beauty was taken away and she would soon be known as The Hottentot Venus or Venus Noir. One thing to note, Venus was the goddess of Love. However, Sarah would never be treated like a goddess. In 1810 (1814), she becomes a part of London’s museum for human oddities. All around Britain, Sarah was sexually objectified. British people had never seen anything like her. But what they forgot was that Sarah wasn’t a thing, she was a person. However, that did not matter to British men. Sarah was raped daily by no less than 60 men a day. There are 365 days in a year. And for 7 years, she was raped. Sarah was raped by 21,900 men in one year, now times that by seven. Although Sarah constantly fought back, she soon was infected with syphilis, which swept through her body quickly, and died. Saartjie Baartman of the Khoi Khoi women was 20 when she was taken from her home and became the pleasure of every British man curiosity.
After her death, you would think Sarah would finally be able to rest. However, her body was ripped open and her cervix preserved in a jar. They stuck a silver rod up her buttocks and throw her body and placed her on display in the Musee de l’ Homee in Paris. Her remains stayed on display for some 160 years and in 2002 her remains were supposed to be delivered back to her homeland. It was only in 2008 that her remains were finally sent home and she was laid to rest. Her grave is now considered a national heritage site. However, no matter how many titles they give her, to some, she will always be that sexual objectification of Black women.
Recently (21012), Swedish culture minister, Adelsohn Liljeroth, chopped up a cake that was similar to many caricatures of Sarah Baartman. However, the cake was supposed to be a highlight for the issue of female circumcision. Why would the cultural minister of Sweden want to chop up a cake that emulates a Black woman (person) to shed light on female circumcision in Africa? The artist who made the cake, Makode Aj Linde, and whose head is a part of the cake said, “Before cutting me up she whispered, ‘Your life will be better after this’ in my ear.” In what shape or way is that supposed to be funny? The Afro-American Swedish association said, “cake party’ was meant to problematize female circumcision but how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with ‘black face’ is unclear.” When will the radical ever stop? People do not realize how demoralizing these images are. And if they do and continue to plaster these images everywhere, then that speaks to what kind of world we live in.