“Just Ask the Scientists”: Troubling the “Hottentot” and Scientific Racism in Bessie Head’s Maru and Ama Ata Aidoo’s Our Sister Killjoy



In her essay “African Sexuality/Sexuality in Africa: Tales and Silences,” Signe Arnfred discusses how the conflicting narratives surrounding Sara Baartman exemplify European attempts to consolidate white supremacist discourses of race as facts of science. Indeed, in the life and death of Sara Baartman, science was the overwhelming mechanism through which she was racialized, gendered, and sexualized. As Pamela Scully and Clifton Crais discuss in their recent biography of Sara Baartman, soon after her death, the leading French scientist of the nineteenth century, George Cuvier, examined, weighed, and dissected the corpse of Baartman, directing most his attention of her buttocks and genitals—that he excised and set in a jar for preservation (Crais and Sculley 2009, 139, 140). Cuvier later reported his findings in his Treatis Memorie du Musée d’Histoire Naturalle and Baartman’s body parts were placed in the museum’s permanent collection. In this chapter, I explore how the colonial tales about Sara Baartman and the specter of scientific racism haunt Bessie Head’s and Ama ata Aidoo’s postcolonial novels and how these writers attempt to make visible, and ultimately disrupt, the painful history of European objectification of the African female body.


Caste System Black Girl White Supremacy African People Scientific Racism 
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© Natasha Gordon-Chipembere 2011

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