Posted: March 18th, 2023
Mandatory Essay: â€œResistance is Never Futile: The Ongoing Struggle for Liberationâ€
Fossils from the Great Rift Valley offer testimony that all human beings descended from their roots in Africa. Because all humans are essentially in diaspora from our original ancestors, it can be especially fruitful to Africanize all history. Finding Africanisms in Black Culture means detailing the different ways Blacks have preserved identity and culture, while also reconstructing identities and culture in diaspora. The Gullah culture is one of the best examples of Africanisms in Black American culture. Although African Americans had been systematically stripped of language and tradition during the process of enslavement and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, it is nevertheless possibleâ€”and necessaryâ€”to trace Africanisms to their source. Prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, pan-African history evolved as civilizations with coherent language and culture migrated throughout the continent. The most notable of all cultural migrations was the Bantu, which was in many ways the proto-civilization of most of Western, Central, and Southern Africa. Often overlooked in Euro-centric histories of the world are the key figures and facts of African history. One of the most remarkable figures in African history was Queen Njinga. Queen Njinga symbolizes the ongoing resistance to oppression that has for too long characterized African and African American societies.
Enslavement, and resistance to enslavement, are inseparable from African history and identity. The politics of slavery were complex long before the global slave trade began to thrive. In spite of the attempts by African leaders like Queen Njinga to withstand the encroachment of European capitalists, the slave trade was well underway by the 17th century. The lure of purchasing a free labor force captivated European colonialists. Enslavement characteristics included kidnapping, physical bondage, torture, and racism. Ethnology was used to justify racism, too.
Oddly enough, African Americans have historically fought for the very nation that oppressed them. Crispus Attucks was in fact the first documented casualty of the American Revolution because he was the first American to die in the Boston Massacre (Franklin and Higginbotham 87). Attucks also happened to be black. Resistance to oppression and slavery took on a number of different shapes and forms, with some choosing to use the creative arts as a form of protest. Phillis Wheatley, who was born in West Africa and sold into slavery at a young age, rose to prominence as a poet in colonial America. Although all African Americans were in some ways affected by slavery, not all African Americans were enslaved. Geographical, historical, and cultural differences contributed to the diversity of African American culture. In New Orleans, a free and liberated African American and Creole culture burgeoned with figures like Thomy Lafon and Julien Hudson.
Prominent early abolitionists like David Walker, Frederick Douglass, John Parker, and William Lloyd Garrison laid the groundwork for revolts and rebellions like those of Nat Turner and Harriet Tubmanâ€™s Underground Railroad, which helped lead innumerable former slaves to freedom. Moreover, abolitionist discourse enabled the self-empowerment of African Americans and helped create a cohesive culture that was forged in opposition to slavery but evolved as an attempt to improve American society as a whole.
Compromises like the 1850 Compromise characterized the insipid politics of America. As America expanded Westward through the policy of Manifest Destiny, policy like the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to the Civil War. The Dred Scott decision also symbolized how deeply racist American society had become after centuries of indoctrination into the concept of white supremacy. Yet the struggle for freedom and liberation continued, and was bolstered by the help of white Americans. Some of the nationâ€™s unsung heroes, like Prudence Cranhall, paved the way not only for the abolition of slavery but for gender equality too. The intersections between race, class, gender, and power became more pronounced in the late 19th and 20th centuries. In spite of legislation guaranteeing equal rights for all Americans, people of color continue to struggle for recognition and basic human rights.
The means by which oppressed people created resistance movements throughout African and African American history has varied since Queen Njinga first fought against the Portuguese. Important political figures like Jesse Jackson helped to raise awareness, but ultimately the arts have been the bastion of African American culture. The hip-hop movement combines art and politics in ever-changing ways to promote social justice. As Chuck D. put it in the 1980s, â€œrap music is CNN for black people,â€ (Williams 1). The time has come for African American history to become fully integrated into the American historical narrative, rather than considering African American history and culture as being divergent from a presumed white norm.
Franklin, John Hope and Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham. From Slavery to Freedom. 9th edition. McGraw-Hill.
Williams, Stereo. Is Hip-Hop Still â€˜CNN For Black People?â€™ The Daily Beast. Retrieved online: https://www.thedailybeast.com/is-hip-hop-still-cnn-for-black-people
Essay 4: Slavery is Not Monolithic
Chattel slavery is the model of slavery used by traders and plantation owners to mark all slaves as physical property rather than human beings. Although chattel slavery did exist in Africa prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the chattel model that evolved in the New World was unlike anything that had existed before. Like the characteristics of slavery in traditional African societies, slavery during the European age of expansion depended on the systematic dehumanization of the labor force. The slave could not be considered a human being; otherwise it would be impossible to justify the practice while also ascribing to Enlightenment values of freedom and equality.
To further dehumanize the enslaved labor force, it also became necessary to justify slavery with racism: insinuating that African people and in fact all non-whites were inferior to Europeans and therefore not worthy of the same rights, privileges, and freedoms offered to their white counterparts. With racist rhetoric, it was easier to justify the perpetuation of the slave trade and the practice of slavery even among people who professed to be Christian. The racist underpinnings of the trans-Atlantic slave trade perpetuated slavery, justified it even to Europeans who had no contact with slaves or Africans, and enabled the entrenchment of racist attitudes, beliefs, and worldviews.
Prior to the racist model of slavery that emerged during the trans-Atlantic trade, slavery assumed three main forms in Africa (Franklin & Higgenbotham 9-11). The first was within a spoils of war model, as when one tribe would enslave members of a defeated tribe as a sign of dominance. Although it seems as if enslavement as a spoil of war would be akin to chattel slavery, it was not because there were limitations on the length of time a slave would remain in bondage, and the children of the enslaved were not necessarily born into bondage. Essentially, freedom was eventually possible. This model of slavery conceptualized the slave as property but only temporarily, viewing the enslavement as a political reward for having won a battle. Unlike chattel slavery, the spoils of war slavery was not about economics but about politics.
The second model of slavery practiced in Africa was actually a form of chattel slavery practiced by Arab traders (Franklin & Higgenbotham 9-11). Arab and other Muslim traders had long practiced slavery as an economic trade. Although the similarities between the Arab/trans-Saharan slave trade and the trans-Atlantic slave trade fueled by Europeans are striking, there are some key differences. One difference between Arab slave trades and the trans-Atlantic trades is that the former did not become a strictly race-based model. Another difference is that the use of slaves in Arab and other Muslim territories was different.
Another feature of African slavery was that it was practiced on a smaller and less systematic scale than the method used in the American south (Franklin & Higgenbotham 9-11). Slavery practices were widespread in West Africa, for example, but the status of slaves was not quite the same as it would be when the people were bought and sold as property. Some African societies used slavery as a means to extract money after a debt was owed, or as collateral. The slaves would also be used more for domestic chores or as a symbol of social status, rather than as a massive hard labor force that was calculated into the operating costs of cash crop plantations. In fact, the scale of American/New World cash crop plantations was unheard of even in the most prosperous African societies. A few domestic or status slaves cannot compare to the way the chattel slaves were used in the American South.
Slavery in Africa was not unique in the sense that all slavery is brutal and dehumanizing. Moreover, slavery in Africa did sometimes reflect racist or at least ethnocentric beliefs. Yet racism did play a much bigger role in the way slavery evolved in the New World. Arab slavers would not enslave other Muslims, but this did not mean that they were racist in their approach to the slave trade. On the contrary, African blacks who converted to Islam would not have been considered viable as slaves. Converting to Islam therefore became a sort of strategy to resist slavery in Africa, but no such option existed for slaves in the United States. Converting to Christianity did nothing to end oppression, and in fact, white Americans sometimes distorted Christianity to justify the practice of slavery. Slavery as it existed in the American south was exceedingly brutal, too, although it is likely there were abusive slave owners in Africa.
Franklin, John Hope and Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham. From Slavery to Freedom. 9th edition. McGraw-Hill.
Essay 6: â€œThe Many Faces of Abolitionismâ€
The spirit, politics, and act of abolitionism came in many forms. Some prominent abolitionists focused on building bridges and forging alliances with the white community, attempting to change minds and hearts through dialogue. Others recognized the deep-rooted racism that prevented real change from taking place and opted for a more militant approach. Because slavery was a legal system throughout the United States, resistance was often dangerous and was also labeled as being subversive, violent, or criminal to delegitimize it. All types of abolitionism proved equally as valid and necessary in the tapestry of black liberation throughout the centuries.
David Walkerâ€™s 1829 publication Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World has become one of the most important political treatises of the 19th century. What makes Walkerâ€™s Appeal unique is its directness. Walker does not mince words or try to appease his racist countrymen when he calls out all who are in any way complicit in the institution of slavery. In fact, Walkerâ€™s Appeal was deemed radical and therefore did not have as broad of an appeal as softer abolitionist texts like Harriet Beecher Stoweâ€™s Uncle Tomâ€™s Cabin. Both a more radical and a tamer approach to abolitionism were necessary for the movement to gain traction in 19th century America (Franklin and Higginbotham 186).
Writing from a Christian perspective, Walker is able to interject religious morality into the Appeal. Using a Christian point of view helped galvanize support for abolitionism in general. White women in the United States tended to support abolitionism, partly due to the recognition that all types of oppression were equally sinister. Many white men, like William Lloyd Garrison, also recognized the importance of intersectionality in his abolitionist writings in The Liberator. Like Walkerâ€™s Appeal, The Liberator did not avoid a frank discussion about the brutality of slavery and urged for immediate emancipation.
Nat Turner acted in the spirit of Garrison and Walker by leading one of the most successful slave rebellions in American history ((Franklin & Higgenbotham 157). Whereas Walker and Garrison capitalized on the power of language and politics, Turner recognized the need for direct action. Even more so than Walker, Turner represented everything white Southerners feared: actual slave rebellions that would seriously undermine the institution. Because of Turnerâ€™s rebellion and other forms of direct resistance, the South rallied to pressure Washington to protect their economic interests. Backlash against abolitionism persisted, as slave owners and racists perceived a distinct threat to their power (Franklin and Higginbotham 194). American government, and white supremacy in general, resisted attempts to form a more perfect union.
Abolitionism was a direct threat to the South, which was why the writings of men like Walker and Garrison fueled the flames of racism even more. The southern economy depended on the slave system for its economic power, and white southern society depended on racism for its political power. Therefore, abolitionism was in many ways considered a declaration of war and did in fact lead to the Southâ€™s decision to secede, opting for slavery rather than social justice. Before the South seceded, politicians like Henry Clay and John Calhoun pressured Washington to pass laws like the Fugitive Slave Act, also shattering the dream of ending slavery throughout the union once and for all. The Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act can be considered bogus legislation given that at that point, no African American resident of a new territory would have had the right to participate in the act of popular sovereignty that would have banned slavery forever in any new territory. These types of compromises harmed the integrity of the nation by appeasing the racists.
By the time President Lincoln was elected in 1860, it was clear that two different nations had emerged: one committed to liberty, justice, and equality, and one committed to racism and oppression. Racists had so deeply infiltrated the federal government that it became nearly impossible to pass sweeping anti-slavery legislation. Apathy was also a problem, and the result was that American policy became a series of limp compromises that only helped to perpetuate slavery and animosity within the union. The 1850 Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott Decisionâ€”which solidified the notion that slaves were not even people–all signified the serious backlash against abolitionism. Slavery was a contentious issue that remained unresolved in American law or the public consciousness. Resistance to oppression and slavery continued, reaching a peak in the 19th century and ultimately leading to war.
Franklin, John Hope and Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham. From Slavery to Freedom. 9th edition. McGraw-Hill.
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