My objective with this thesis is to understand how racist stereotypes and myths compounded the sale of fair-skinned black women during and after the slave trade in New Orleans, Louisiana. This commodification of black women's bodies continued well into the twentieth century, notably in New Orleans' vice district of Storyville. Called "quadroons" (a person with ¼ African ancestry) and "octoroons" (1/8 African ancestry), these women were known for their "sexual prowess" and drew in a large number of patrons. The existence of "white passing" black women complicated ideas about race and racial purity in the South. Race as a myth and social construct, or as Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham explains in her essay, African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race, a "metalanguage" exposes race not as a genetic fact, but rather a physical appearance through which power relations and status were to be conferred. My methodology uses race and gender theory to analyze primary and secondary sources to understand and contextualize how population demographics, myths, and liberal 18th century colonial laws contributed to the sale of black women's bodies. The works of Emily Clark, Walter Johnson, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall and other historians who utilize Atlantic history have been paramount in my research. Emily Clark has transformed the "white-black" women from a tragic, sexualized trope into a fully actualized human being, while Hall has tackled the racist underpinnings inherent in the neglect of black women's history. The writings of bell hooks, particularly her essay Eating the Other, establishes the modern day commodification of black women vis-à -vis their representation in media, as well as through the fetishism of their bodies by a white patriarchal system. During slavery plantation owners could do virtually anything they wanted with their property, including engaging in sexual intercourse. By depicting black women as hypersexual jezebels, they could justify their rape, while establishing their dominance and place in the white male hegemony of that time period. For the right price a white male of a lesser class could achieve the same thing at a brothel down in Storyville at the turn of the twentieth century, for as Emily Clark argues in her book, The Strange History of the American Quadroon, these brothels were a great equalizer, allowing all white men to experience "…sexual mastery enjoyed only by elite planters before the Civil War." By democratizing white supremacy, the quadroon and others like her forged solidarity that bridge across all classes, while upholding whiteness and oppressing people of color at the same time.


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Thesis Completion





Lester, Connie


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities




Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis