Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

12Sept2012Vision1: Noticing "Colored Amazons"

ishin's picture

Gross makes an observation in the introduction of Colored Amazons that's stuck with me as I read about these cases and their history.  "For most [of these women], their criminal records serve as the only documentation of their lives." (pg.4-5)  It strikes me in a way that I cannot shake.  We, after all, live in a time where we are constantly anxious of the legacy we may leave--may it be by the "greatness" or change we want to bestow on the world, or even by becoming paranoid over the paper-trail we leave on the internet.  In other words, we understand that we have a history and constantly think about it.

These women, however, would have almost never existed.  They were given no birth certificates, no social security code, no formal identification of any kind was given to them when they were first born to let us know that they were born and continued to lead lives.  Instead, we were close to not acknowledging their presence on this earth and to being blind at their imprint on the world.

This gets to me for two reasons: one, to imagine living a life with a lack of "identity" seems surreal to us now. (see above). Two, the only time these women were "looked" at was when they were committing crimes.  As put by Gross, "Because of their concentration in domestic service fields, when they committed a crime they were generally witnesses around willing to testify against them." (pg.34)  All of this is to say that these women were thought of as someone or something to dismiss.  As something to ignore and not lay eyes on.  The only times they were worth looking at was when they were out of line, not partaking in their duties, and were not being obedient pieces of property.

The more obvious lesson to me when reading this is how we only tend to see people when it suits our needs.  These women who committed crimes may as well not have existed if it weren't for their wrong doings.  What's more, if we think about it in terms of how we should bear witness to the women incarcerated now, it makes us wonder about much more we should try to see when looking at them in their most dire of times.  Not only to see them more holistically as a person, but also because they deserve more than their documented crimes to be their trace in history.