I am nearing the end of Sally G. McMillen's Southern Women: Black and White in the Old South, which is sad, because it is a fascinating book. In many cases, it illuminates the founding relationship between black and white women in America. I have recalled the tense bond between black and white feminists many times while reading Southern Women. This morning, I was struck by the passage below--how it is as useful in describing antebellum relationships as modern ones, especially if you trade the word "slavery" for "racism."
Paul Escott's study of slave testimony shows that neither black nor white women had a more favorable attitude toward the other. Yet as wives, mothers, and laborers, black and white women shared similar experiences. They bore, nursed, and raised children, worked extremely hard, embraced their religion, and suffered ill health. They both lived under the dominance of southern white men. And yet, an enormous chasm separated their worlds and kept them from developing a sense of sisterhood and mutual support. Distrust, jealousy, racism, and a tradition of oppression were ever-present. Black women felt more handicapped by racial than by sexual oppression and maintained their strongest ties to the black community. Until the Civil War, most white women accepted slavery; some defended it as well. Those who benefited by owning slaves recognized their situation and class position depended on slavery.