Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black History Month Day 2: The Autobiography Of a Slave

Olaudah Equiano

  Now usually when I ask people to name a Black writer from the Slavery era they usually, almost exclusively even, say Phillis Wheatley. I don't really find anything wrong with that because I have a vague understanding of why this is. You see I remember reading about Phillis Wheatley in just about every history and English class I ever taken because of the way she ties in with the Revolutionary War and the fact she never really wrote about her existence as a slave but more about the way colonists felt about the British. This essentially means that she is a lot more 'acceptable' for those in Texas who produce most of our nation's textbooks. Before I get even more off track let's look at Olaudah Equiano.

  Back when I was in High School I read an excerpt from his autobiography (which you can get free here ) it was just a great read and I'll probably remember his story forever. (Didn't you have to Google his name earlier?) Shh. I encourage you to read it but summarize his work, Equiano describes him and his sister being kidnapped in Africa. He becomes the slave for a few different Africans before he is sold to Europeans and brought to the 'New World'. After being taught to read and write by his third European slave master, a Quaker from Philadelphia, he is able to buy his freedom. Shortly after that he moved to England where he became a member of the England abolitionist movement and published his book which exposed the conditions Africans had to go through while on the slave ships and while in America. It wasn't the first book of it's kind but it had the most impact, leading to a growing abolitionist movement in 18th century Europe.

  I think the most interesting aspect of his Autobiography has to be the way he contrasts being owned by Africans with being owned by Europeans. I think that if you ever run into someone who tries the whole "Well, Blacks owned slaves in Africa, Why focus on White people?!!" thing, you recommend this book to them. It could really open their eyes to see that while Slavery was not just White guys running around throwing nets and kidnapping Black people (even though that did happen) the Europeans displayed a level of cruelty and dehumanization that was unheard of. Anyway,  I hope you check out his works and I'll see you tomorrow.

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