Natasha Trethewey



from Logos


1. The Requirement, 1513

In the text of the document called "The Requirement," Spaniards gave themselves authority to claim the land of the Americas and its inhabitants. It was read to trees and empty huts when no Indians were to be found.

That they deemed the land unclaimed, as if
            uninhabited—terra nullius;

That the words they spoke, unabashed, went
            unchallenged by the natives
who were not present, or did not speak

the language—words unknown to them,
            unheard by the trees,
            the grasses, the untamed wilderness

of a world unnamed, called new;

That the protests of the natives—
            were they, at last, unleashed—went
unheeded, unanswered
            by any god, unintelligible
            to those who had arrived, unbidden, by sea;

Then this, what cannot be
            undone: the words made deed—
We shall take you
            and your wives and your children,
            make slaves of them,
            sell and dispose of them,
            take away your goods,

do all the harm and damage that we can.



4. from Josiah Clark Nott’s Propositions on Mulattoes, 1854

mulattoes are the shortest-lived                    

of the human race      


in intelligence              between

the blacks        and the whites            

Less capable

of undergoing             

hardship and fatigue  



mulatto-women are    

peculiarly delicate and           

subject to

a variety of chronic diseases  

Bad breeders   bad

nurses    liable

to abortions         That

their children       

generally die               



That mulattoes

like Negroes    although un-

acclimated       enjoy   

extraordinary    exemption    

from yellow-fever                   

when brought

to Charleston
              New Orleans