So I’m (re)reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and wondering what the story would be like if Of-fred had been a Black woman. Of course, Black people are only referenced once in the book- in an off-hand manner about “Children of Ham” being relegated to “National Homelands” (reminiscent of Bantustans in Apartheid South Africa).
This could be read as a convenient way of avoiding addressing the afterlife of slavery- because the reader is expected to understand that the valued, fecund bodies are those of cisgender white women (not Jews, termed “Children of Jacob” or Blacks termed “Children of Ham”, etc). Offred is allowed to be the ‘neutral’ narrator with whom the reader identifies because whiteness is presumed to be a universal and ubiquitous solvent- a solvent that dissolves, assimilates and destroys.
If this text were to center a Black subject, the reader would have to confront the afterlife of slavery- a reality in which Black bodies which were previously valued for their fecundity and (re)productive value are now devalued, deemed ‘queer’ (or ‘deviant’) and ‘excess’ in the face of nationalisms that prize whiteness/heteronormativity/etc above all. Another interesting angle to look at the surreptitious use of contraceptives and methods to induce miscarriage among enslaved Africans, and the ways that the regime’s staunchly anti-abortion stance would doubly criminalize Black subjects on this basis.
I’ll come back with more thoughts.