S. Wallerstein questions my use of the word "rape" to describe the fathering of children on slave women by slaveowners. At the end of the Civil War, there were roughly 4 million enslaved black men and women who were freed. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that half of them were women. Was there somewhere among these 2 million women one or even several who engaged in totally voluntary consensual sexual relationships that their owners? Who cares? When one has 2 million people in a category, probably anything imaginable is possible and perhaps happens more than once.
Let me remind you of the common practice on slave plantations of digging a shallow pit so that when a pregnant slave woman was to be beaten for some reason, or perhaps for no reason at all, she could be placed with her belly in the pit so that as the blood ran down her back the fetus would be protected, it being valuable property.
I think it is a very bad mistake to try to describe an institution like slavery using the social and psychological language of personal relationships. Slavery was fundamentally an economic institution for extracting labor from those who had no choice but to provide it. That is the way it was treated by the slaveowners, who in general kept detailed double entry bookkeeping records of what happened on their plantations, and that is, I think, the way we ought to try to understand it. Slaves dressed their masters and mistresses, cooked their food, cleaned their houses, nursed their babies, accompanied them on trips in order to provide for their personal needs, and were regularly used as sexual objects. These interactions between the slaveowners and their property generated rich, complex, many layered emotions both in the owners and in their property. It is fascinating to study the oral literature, rich in ironic communication, by which the slaves expressed and memorialized their experiences. But it would be fundamentally mistaken to imagine that a nuanced understanding of those complex emotions is the best way to understand the foundational structure of the institution of slavery.
Needless to say, the same is true of capitalism but that is for a different post.