Event Date
Mar 16, 2017
Alisa Bierria, UC Berkeley
Margo Mahan, UC Berkeley

Photo of art from noselves2defend.tumblr.com. Art created by Bianca Diaz. It’s an interpretation of what a young enslaved woman named Celia could have looked like in 1855 when she was hanged for murdering her "master" after years of sexual violence.

Alisa Bierria and Margo Mahan


The Center for Race & Gender Thursday Forum Series presents…

Disappearing Acts: Domestic Violence & Black Legal Subjects

The Racial Origins of U.S. Domestic Violence Law
Margo Mahan, Sociology

My dissertation investigates the historical emergence of wife-beating laws in the United States. I argue that southern wife-beating laws emerged from a white-supremacist post-Civil War project to control the labor and degrade the social status of black families. In contrast to the long-standing narrative of feminist activism, I demonstrate how these laws were a postbellum response to the racialized and gendered convergence of the antebellum Master-slave and Husband-wife relationships. Antebellum socio-legal norms simultaneously advanced marital cruelty protections for wives on the one hand and encouraged the physical chastisement of slaves on the other. This ensured that the authority to beat slave women – to include de facto slave wives – was a specifically white male prerogative; and, it added physical chastisement to a long list of naturalized distinctions between blackness and whiteness. Emancipation exposed the fragility of ‘domestic relations’ – and thus the southern way of life – by highlighting its dependence on racialized gender hierarchies. Wife-beating laws that threatened to punish black men, in the midst of socio-legal norms that kept black women vulnerable to white male violence, helped to restore a southern way of life that simultaneously controlled black labor and degraded the status of blackness.

Space is the Case: Mapping Domestic Violence, Race, & Stand Your Ground
Alisa Bierria, Center for Race & Gender

Feminist critiques of domestic violence have created lucid explanations of how gendered power relations drive patterns of violence in abusive heterosexual relationships. Public debates about the racialized and gendered discrepancies of the application of “Stand Your Ground” laws have created an opportunity for stronger spatialized analyses of domestic violence, particularly in the context of the criminalization of battered women who are disproportionately black women and other women of color. Can a geopolitical analysis of domestic violence create a richer understanding of the criminalization of domestic violence survivors who act in self-defense? In this talk, I will consider the prosecution of Marissa Alexander as a case study to begin a discussion about black women’s self-defense in the context of spatialized and racialized dimensions of domestic and state violence.