Sex and Aggression: A Freudian Case Study in Understanding White Patriarchy in Jamaica During British Colonial Rule

Using Jamaican plantation society during British colonial rule as a case study to analyze race relations between blacks and whites in turn reveals Freudian undercurrents of sexuality and aggression within the architecture of race relations. On the surface, white patriarchy was the overarching theme of race relations within the Jamaican plantation complex during British colonial rule, but it involved an array of subconscious realities for all the groups involved, which include the white male, white female, as well as black males and black females. The most complex relationship that ultimately sheds light on the entire social structure of Jamaican plantation society during British rule were the sexual interactions between the white male and the black female. Miscegenation between the white male and the black female was a means by which the white male combined gratification with the elevation of his social status.

            White patriarchy within the Jamaican plantation complex during British colonial rule sought to demarcate the social separation between whites and blacks. Yet, the subconscious factors of sexuality and aggression actually intensified the interaction between whites and blacks within this particular society. One could argue that white patriarchy and the sexual interaction between the white male and black female combined with the aggression towards the black male slave was a reaction to the psychosocial vulnerability that white patriarchy felt in the face of the black population. White patriarchy can be deemed as a reaction which is underpinned by the desire for miscegenation as well as aggression towards the black male, which are used as a façade to conceal the vulnerability of whites towards blacks.

            Many owners of vast slave plantations in Jamaica lived outside of Jamaica while leaving their plantations under the supervision of lower-ranking white overlords. Overall, there was a huge disparity between the number of whites and blacks in Jamaican society during British colonial rule. Immediately after Britain’s colonization of Jamaica in 1655, whites displayed an “inability… to establish successful demographic patters that allowed for the natural increase of the white population.” The inability to naturally grow the white population ultimately led to the disparity between the number of whites and the number of blacks. The byproduct of this population disparity was a sense of vulnerability on the part of the white population and white slave master. Whites generally “feared being overwhelmed – both culturally and physically – by a numerically predominant black population.”

            What added to the shakiness of white patriarchy was the inclination of the white male towards miscegenation with the black female. The inclination of the white male towards miscegenation with the black female while aggressively suppressing the black population fits within the subconscious Freudian paradox of sexuality and aggression that is an integral part of Freud’s of “Ego, Superego, and Id.” This, despite the fact that white patriarchy deemed whites and blacks as “two distinct species.” Nevertheless, the two races were inclined to sexually intermingle, and this became “troublesome for a system which thrived on distinctions of race, class, and color,” signifying the substantial threat that sexuality posed to the rigidity of a social hierarchy that places whites above blacks. As it appears, miscegenation exposed the lack of rigidity within a social structure based on white patriarchy.

            For one, miscegenation created a social status for the black female that was virtually impossible within the conventional structure of white patriarchy and the social paradigm based on racial differences. Miscegenation “produced a legal and social culture within which the interrelations between racism and sexism promoted the black woman to a heightened visibility,” which would otherwise be impossible through a pervasive discourse based on race. Basically, the black female was more desirable to the white male than the white female, and miscegenation brought the white male and black female closer. When taking into account the example of Thomas Thistlewood, a white plantation owner in Jamaica during British colonial rule who meticulously documented his sexual relations with black slave women in the 18th century, one can ascertain that miscegenation was “an expression of the preference for ‘enslaved sexuality.’” White males expressed that “it was very difficult… to live amongst [black women] for any length of time, without having unlawful connections with them,” which in turn demonstrates the vulnerability of aggressive white patriarchy to the element of sexual desire.

Various accounts depict some of the most statured white men of Jamaican society “keeping a favorite black or mulatta girl on every estate, which the managers are obliged to pamper and indulge like goddesses.” At times, black females became aware of the incentives that came with their interactions with the white male, and by some accounts it led the black female to acquire a sense of superiority over males of their own color. Nevertheless, the element of sexual desire as a driver of social interaction between white males and black females in Jamaican society maturated the notion that female slaves were able to acquire a certain level of social standing amidst the overall structure of white patriarchy.

Apparently, the social implications stemming from miscegenation in Jamaican society were dire for the white female. To a certain extent, miscegenation led to the marginalization of the white female. As a result of miscegenation, the white male often cast aside the white female, because the former preferred having sexual relations with black women. White females were seen as meddlesome, and were seen as often interfering with the operations of the plantation complex due to her frustration stemming from the marginalization of her status. White males went as far as depicting white females as desperate creatures who “when taking a liking to men…they seldom fail to shake off all manner of modesty and shame to gratify their extravagant desires.” The manner in which the white man saw white women signaled the diminution of the white woman’s status in Jamaican society.

However, there were eventually limits set to the elevation of blacks in Jamaican society during British colonial rule. Although sexual interaction between blacks and whites was permitted, white males who married black women “would be despised in the community and excluded from all society on that account” in order to thwart the collapse of the overall structure of white rule. Nevertheless, the writing was on the wall per se, and miscegenation became “a double-edged sword within the context of slavery” that served as “evidence of human sexuality recognizing itself as such and transcending crudely constructed ideological boundaries, as well as an indication of the fragility and private irrelevance of the race discourse.”

The inclination towards miscegenation, however, did not stop the flipside of the Freudian “Id” to come to the fore, which was the impulse to conquer and dominate black society. J.B. Moreton, a white man in Jamaica who lived during British colonial rule, wrote that “the beasts of the field are better protected by the laws than slaves in the West Indies.” What underpinned the desire of the white male to conquer the black population was none other than the fear of being overtaken by the black population. By 1774, blacks made up approximately 95 percent of the population in Jamaica, and it is one factor that contributes to the hostile manner in which whites dealt with blacks. Nevertheless, black males were degraded by the white population to the utmost extent. It is a known fact that while black slave women were ordered to provide sexual services to white men, “their black husbands…being neglected, silently pass those nights in disagreeable slumbers, wrecked with jealousy and torture.” Whites were “taught to practice severities to the slaves” and were “impressed…with strange and cruel ideas of the nature of blacks.” White slave masters “did not want to be told, that negroes were human creatures” and “if they believe them to be of the human kind, they cannot regard them…as no better than dogs or horses.”

As mentioned before, white vulnerability underpinned the Freudian impulse to aggressively conquer the black population. There were certain individuals amidst the British population who were unwilling to condone the manner in which the British exercised their authority over the black population. William Beckford, a former mayor of London and the wealthiest plantation owner in Jamaica in the 18th century, called for the white elite to “look into their hearts” and to be “just” in the exercise of their authority in order to secure their worldly power. Beckford lamented over how “the poor negro receives punishment after punishment” as a “consequence of his weakness” and how blacks were “too frequently deprived” of basic human rights. Jamaica during British rule amounted to what Trevor Burnard called a “war zone.”

War is often waged by a status quo power to secure their power, thus signaling a sense of weakness and vulnerability towards the other side. Beckford addresses this sense of weakness and vulnerability by suggesting that the tables could one day turn:

“Every prosperous man should reflect that he may sometime or other become unfortunate; and if he have not sufficient charity to overlook the faults of others, let him only reflect how much he must be consequently humbled by a remembrance of his own. Let him likewise consider that he upon whose weakness he has trampled with all the barbaric insolence of power, may some time or other arise from humiliation, and retort the injuries he has received.”

The general discourse of the white male elite included the belief that “the right to power, profits, glory, and pleasure was specified as a core element in the articulation of masculine ideologies,” in turn enforcing the Freudian notion that infantile sexuality and the desire to aggressively dominate the world serve as the foundation for white social behavior. What seems to be the paradox between the inclination of whites towards miscegenation on one hand, and the mistreatment of people of color on the other hand can only be explained through a theoretical approach undergirded by a Freudian subconscious foundation.

Sources Used:

Beckford, William. “A Descriptive Account of the Island of Jamaica, Vol. 1.”

Beckles, Hilary McD. “Freeing Slavery: Gender Paradigms in the Social History of Caribbean Slavery.” In “Slavery, Freedom, and Gender: The Dynamics of Caribbean Society.” Moore, Brian L., B.W. Higman, Carl Campbell and Patrick Bryan, Eds. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2001.

Beckles, Hilary McD. “Historicizing Slavery in West Indian Feminisms.”

Burnard, Trevor. “A Failed Settler Society: Marriage and Demographic Failure in Early Jamaica.” Journal of Social History, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Autumn, 1994). Pgs. 63-82.

Burnard, Trevor. “Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in The Anglo-Jamaican World.” Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Long, Edward. “The History of Jamaica,” Book II.

Mohammad, Patricia. ‘But most of all mi love me browning: The Emergence in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Jamaica of the Mulatto Woman as the Desired.” Feminist Review, No. 65, Summer, 2000. Pgs. 22-48.

Moreton, J.B. “Manners and Customs in the West India Islands. Containing Various Particulars Respecting the Soil, Cultivation, Produce, Trade, Officers, Inhabitants, With the Method of Establishing and Conducting a Sugar-Plantation; In which the Ill-Practices of Superintendents Are Pointed Out. Also the Treatment of Slaves and the Slave Trade, 1790.”

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