Kim Kardashian. Saartje Baartman. Black Women & their Bums

Because this deserved more than just a Retweet:

To anyone remotely familiar with women’s sexual history, Kardashian’s W photo (see image above) no doubt evokes the Hottentot Venus. Kardashian’s positioning, her behind as the main attraction, and her from-the-neck-down platinum airbrushing–perhap used to invoke a racially ambiguous signal–visually recollects the imaging and dressing of Sarah Baatman, a Khoisan young woman exhibited around 19th century European as a freak show….

Although Kardashian holds friendships with Black female stars in their own rights, the reality star’s attention seems to upstage her social set– and most certainly her backside does. Still the question begs itself, Is Kardashian’s somehow performing Black femaleness with her toting exaggerated behind? Does she somehow appropriate the deconstructed parts of Black females the world fancies, juxtaposing her fair skin, and long hair, creating some unmatched sexualized package the modern world has yet to see?…

Thank you to Geneva Thomas, author of the piece, for going there and giving us the skeleton–or a ghost?  a reminder?–from which we can start discussing the fraught relationship between mainstream society and black women’s bodies, between the butt in general and the Ass as a signifier of larger, more complicated & colonial histories.

Just for some context:

Sartjee, the Hottentot Venus Digital ID: 1107949. New York Public Library

Sartjee, the Hottentot Venus Digital ID: 1107949. New York Public Library

The caption reads:  “Sartjee, The Hottentot Venus.  Shown in London in 1811.  Sartjee is 22 years old is 4 feet 10 inches high, and has (for an Hotentot) a good repacity.  She lived in the occupation of a cook at the Cape of Good Hope.–Her country is situated not less than 600 miles from the Cape.  The inhabitants of which are rich in cattle and sell them by barter for a mere trifle, a bottle of brand or small roll of tobacco will furnish several sheep–Their principal trade is in cattle skins & tallow–Beyond their Nation is an other, of small stature, very subtle & fierce; the Dutch could not bring them under subjugation; and shot them wherever they found them.  9th, Fairholt 1811”

Image Credit:  F. W. Fairholt, Tobacco, Its History and Associations: including and acount of the plant and its manufacture; with its modes of use in all ages and countries (London, 1859), plate 146 [pdf without illustrations available here] Courtesy of Digital NYPL


Courtesy of Krista A. Thompson, Emory University

The caption reads: Several prints dating from the early nineteenth century illustrate the sensation generated by the spectacle of “The Hottentot Venus.” A French print entitled “La Belle Hottentot,” for example, depicts the Khosian woman standing with her buttocks exposed on a box-like pedestal. Several figures bend straining for a better look, while a male figure at the far right of the image even holds his seeing-eye glass up to better behold the woman’s body. The European observers remark on the woman’s body: “Oh! God Damn what roast beef!” and “Ah! how comical is nature.”

The spectacle & the gaze.

For more information, go ask my Politics.  They call her Zora Walker.  (Search tag: #saartje)



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