Summary of “Sugartime”

“A spoonful of sugar,” as Mary Poppins croons, is a bribe, something to help “The medicine go down.” Sugar is leisure and celebration – what British birthday would be complete without the stickiness of cake frosting on fingers? It is, according to Roland Barthes, an attitude – as integral to the concept of Americanness as wine is to Frenchness.
In the 1958 hit song “Sugartime,” to which Barthes was referring, the sunny, smiling McGuire Sisters harmonize sweetly, filling their mouths with honey: “Sugar in the mornin’ / Sugar in the evenin’ / Sugar at suppertime / Be my little sugar / And love me all the time.”
The artist Kara Walker tackled a profoundly different collision of femininity and sweetness than Katy Perry on a candy cloud when she conceived of a 35-foot sugar sphinx inside the former Domino Sugar Refinery in 2014.
The sugar sphinx, the artist wrote in the work’s full title, was “An Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”
In a review of Cotton’s 2011 show at the Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles, Leah Ollman wrote: “Exhausting familiar sexist correspondences between women and fantasy, desire, indulgence and consumption, the work exploits a single gimmick to the point of sugar shock.” What’s more, the young, white, limber women draped over Cotton’s candy clouds raise an important question: In a world where sweetness is innocence, and innocence is whiteness, who is allowed to be sweet?
To my mind, it is a paradox: Its crouch is both submissive and the precursor to a deadly pounce; in all those tons of pure white sugar is a grandeur at odds with the meek honeys, sugars, and sweethearts we’re used to.
Stuart Hall alluded to this shared history of blackness and sugar when he famously wrote, “I am the sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea.” A black, Jamaican-born theorist living and working in London, Hall could feel – even taste – the legacy of the enslaved black people who bled for Britain’s colonial wealth.
The sugar industry has been accused of complicity in forced labor in the U.S. as recently as 1989, and in the Caribbean in 2001, with the UN’s International Labour Organization describing the treatment of Haitian sugar workers in the Dominican Republic as “One of the most widely documented instances of coercive labour contracting over the past two decades.” A report by Verité found that workers in the Dominican Republic were often kept – through the prohibitive cost of transport compared to the meagerness of the wages, and thanks to their undocumented status – within workers’ compounds of the plantations there, not given the liberty to move freely.

The orginal article.