Sarah Baartman is a name that every black person should know. You won’t hear about her too much in the mainstream media. And with good reason. Mainly because Sarah’s body was exploited, much like black women today in rap videos. It is really sick to watch at times. It’s hard to see my sisters looked upon as a piece of meat. And I don’t even want to mention what they do with black women in the porn industry. To call it degrading what is a vast understatement. A little history about Sarah: Sarah Baartman was born to a Khoisan family in the vicinity of the Gamtoos River in what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa. She was orphaned in a commando raid. Saartjie, pronounced “Sahr-kee”, is the diminutive form of her name; in Afrikaans the use of the diminutive form commonly indicates familiarity, endearment or contempt. Her birth name is unknown.
Who is Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman?
In 1810, when Saartjie Baartman was in her early twenties, she was persuaded by an English ship’s doctor, William Dunlop, to travel to England to make her fortune. However, as a Khoikhoi woman she was considered an anthropological freak in England, and she found herself put on exhibition, displayed as a sexual curiosity. Dubbed The Hottentot Venus, her image swept through British popular culture. Abolitionists unsuccessfully fought a court battle to free her from her exhibitors.
Saartjie Baartman was taken to Paris in 1814 and continued to be exhibited as a freak. She became the object of scientific and medical research that formed the bedrock of European ideas about black female sexuality. When she died in 1816, the Musee de l’Homme in Paris took a death cast of her body, removed her skeleton and pickled her brain and genitals in jars. These were displayed in the museum until as late as 1985.
After five years of negotiating with the French authorities for the return of Saartjie Baartman’s remains, the South African government, together with the Griqua National Council which represents the country’s 200,000 Griqua people, part of the Koi-San group, brought Saartjie Baartman back to South Africa. On Friday 3 May 2002, in a moving ceremony attended by many representatives of the Khoikhoi people, Saartjie Baartman was welcomed back to Cape Town. Her final resting place is in the Eastern Cape, where she was born.
Sarah Baartman and African women of today share a lot of negative parallels in the way others perceive them. Baartman was made famous across Europe for basically one reason, her buttocks, as the man in the film we watched Tuesday put it. In no way should this be a form of fame. Not in Baartman’s time or ours. But sadly it is. For example Kim Kardashian is ‘famous’ for her butt today.
I have seen countless videos that go viral on social media of women ‘twerking’. Their butt’s the only thing in the shot. And turns out the women are usually black, and if they are not black one is sure to find numerous comments on the video saying something along the lines of “wow she can move like a black girl”. That is a clear example of racism and how black women are sexualised in our everyday life. In Baartmans day there were no cameras to take videos but people would travel to see the same thing people see every day on popular social media.
As far as I’m concerned we as a whole have not gotten any better. Black women or any women should not be sexualised for their looks.