The New York Times recently published great a article about new research by 23andMe, that traces genetic data stemming from the transatlantic slave trade. The research is described as “one of the most comprehensive investigations of the transatlantic slave trade ever done.”

I’m glad this research is being shared and made available to the general public.

It’s about European men committing mass rape for centuries. It’s about them raping enslaved African women on slave ships and multiple continents. Yet the words “rape” or “raped” appear sparingly.

This excerpt is particularly damning, “European men contributed three times more to the modern-day gene pool of people of African descent than European women did. In the British Caribbean, they contributed 25 times more.”

However, we need to be clear about what we’re discussing.

This research is saying that European men raped a lot. They raped enslaved African women (some men too) every day and the evidence of their rape is widespread. So why avoid the term rape? Why lessen its usage?

This is the kind of stuff that gets my ancestral rage rising. Avoiding the term “rape” implies something dangerous. It opens the doorway for harmful narratives that imply “consent” or “enjoyment.” It must be clearly stated that this was centuries of mass rape and mass murder. I stress using the term “rape” for a number of key reasons. One of them is the Jezebel stereotype continuously used to hypersexualize and dehumanize Black women in order to justify the rape and sexual violence we’ve endured.

In grad school, a white classmate tried to argue with me about the rape of Black women. When the life of Sally Hemmings was raised, she brushed it off and claimed that it was only a “rumor”. When other classmates verified that Sally Hemmings had given birth to the children of Thomas Jefferson, she then exclaimed, “Well, we don’t know the nature of their relationship.”

I told her, “The nature of their relationship was that Sally Hemmings was a young enslaved Black girl and he was a slave owner. If our professor (a Black man) owned you and wanted to have sex with you, would you call that consent or rape?”

She was silent. She refused to call it rape. She refused to acknowledge that Thomas Jefferson was a rapist. Sadly, she is not alone. American school systems have done a fine job of deifying “founding fathers” and vilifying their victims. This leads to gross miseducation among the general public that prevents full acknowledgment and understanding about how our society functions and how systemic oppression is historically rooted in American history.

Another important reason to emphasize the term “rape” in these articles about DNA and the transatlantic slave trade is that it helps us better conceptualize: Transgenerational Trauma, Trans-Generational Epigenetic Injury, and the Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome that continue to affect our lives.

I deeply appreciate the scope of the work by 23andMe researchers and will continue to share it. And I’m glad that the New York Times covered it. However, in order to fully grasp what happened to enslaved Africans and how it affects their descendants, we need language that repeatedly clarifies what they endured in no uncertain terms.

This is about mass rape. Let us never forget.


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Jessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor

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