360 midterm - 1 February 26, 2012 HST 360Dr. Lefkovitz...

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1 February 26, 2012 HST 360—Dr. Lefkovitz Mid-Term Exam (1) Through our study of women in the law, I believe that the law shapes society and how aspects of race and gender are perceived. Trials in the 19 th century became the arenas in determining the rights women possessed and the law was shaped to respond to cases of racial determination, cases of rape, and what property rights women ensued. While reading Ariela J. Gross’s, “Litigating Whiteness: Trials of Racial Determination in the Nineteenth-Century South” I found that legal determination of race could not reflect community consensus because no consensus existed. Henceforth, it would be very difficult to say that law reflected society and the reality of the times is how the law was constructed. Instead, law played an important role in constituting the meaning of racial identities. The case examined was one of Abby Guy who sued William Daniel in the Circuit Court of Ashley County, Arkansas, complaining that he has held her and her children unfairly in slavery despite the fact that she was white. Gross stated, “the courtroom conclusions about how to deicide whether someone was black or white, whether this was seen as the essence of race or simply as the best available evidence of race, reverberated throughout Southern culture because of the importance of the courtroom as a cultural arena” (119). During cases of racial determination, jurors were instructed to use their common sense to determine whiteness but at the same time faced the fear of “racial unknowability”. There was no precedent or set guidelines how to determine the race of an individual, but the overtime the law shaped how such distinctions should be made. To determine the race of Guy, “Guy’s lay witnesses focused on her
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2 social identity, her associations with white people, and her having performed tasks that white people quintessentially performed” (133). Abby Guy won the dispute because the witnesses testified to her social identity, or her ability to live as an equal, and not to her physical
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This note was uploaded on 03/26/2012 for the course HST 360* taught by Professor Lefkovitz during the Spring '12 term at Miami University.

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360 midterm - 1 February 26, 2012 HST 360Dr. Lefkovitz...

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