Humans are known to be exquisitely sensitive to differences that exist between 'their' groups and 'other' groups. Conflicts, especially group conflicts, are as old as human existence. The causes of conflicts include but not limited to ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, economic control, and class differences. Among these causes, racial difference is more conspicuous as it is easily visible, which dictates that both the culture and behavior of another individual or group of persons are also different. And when the diverse groups occupy and share one territory, whose resources also need to be shared, conflict is inevitable. It is undoubtedly true that both conflicts and cooperation marred race relations in the American past colonies. Again, it is a general view that race relations in the colonial period were complicated and cannot be explored through a single source but various sources and resources. So complicated was the interaction of the black and white colonialists that it led to betrayals, slavery, cruelty, hard labor, death and eventually freedom. The struggle to freedom from slavery and bondage has been widely discussed in various forms of writing and art. It was never a peaceful venture as one group sought dominance over the other, which in retrospect, sought freedom from oppression and everything related to it. The treatment of slaves, which forms the foundation of all different race relationships, was not the same in all states among slave owners; while some states were tolerant of freed slaves, others changed their laws to accommodate them while others allowed freed slaves to be driven beyond borders. To explore the race relations and class differences among other issues among these very distinct groups, this paper will utilize three books to highlight the complicated and tumultuous relations that existed between the blacks, Africans and the Americans during the colonial era. These historical texts are Olaudah Equian's interesting "Narrative of Life," "A narrative of the Life and adventure of the venture; a narrative of Africa" and documents from Michael P. Johnson's "The Reading of the American past" by
To begin, fragments of information collected from these texts will be used to find out how the colonialists justified enslavement as well as the oppression of Africans or African-Americans. The justification of slavery can be viewed from the perspective of the colonizers and also that of the colonized. Beginning with the former, they saw Africa as a land whose resources were rich and unexploited. It was an area of interest which they could gain economically/commercially from the natural resources and source of cheap labor in the form of slaves. Before venturing into Africa, most colonialists had read books written about the continent which depicted Africa as a land of irredeemably inferior people; the land of a people so primitive that they were better of as slaves. The British merchants in Equiano's "Narrative of life" benefitted immensely from their adventures in Africa, especially West Africa where the author, in his own words, says that the "British manufacturers and merchant adventurers" would greatly benefit from the "hidden treasures" found in "the bowels and surface of Africa"(p.118). Another reason that Equiano presents, that can be viewed as a justification for enslavement and oppression of Africans by the British, is the superiority complex in all angles, hence the need for domination in every aspect and change in the mechanics of operation to suit their interests. After his capture and transport, Equaino accepts that the colonizers are "men superior to us" (p.29) and whose "manners" he found useful to imitate including the desire to read and write.
The Church of England played a role in justifying slavery as it gave the British its full support to the slave trade. St. Paul's readings were the central reference point as he suggested that slaves ought to serve their owners "with fear and trembling," which was later taken to mean that liberty or freedom could be expected only in the next world. The church also had a portion of slave ownership. It is represented by the Guerin's sisters who eventually send Equiano to school (Johnson, 2008).
Poverty is also a tool that the colonialists used to subdue Africans mentally, in addition to the inferiority complex. Even though Africa had a lot of hidden treasures, minerals among other resources, the Africans were made to believe that they were nothing. The social complexities dictate that those who control economic resources stay above the food chain. Owning property and land was a core measure of wealth. On the corridors of justice, Africans were out of the picture as formal education in almost all sectors were not meant for them. This implied that they could not have a voice; they were devoid of any "foundation of reason or justice" as Vinture Smith puts it in "A narrative of Life and Adventures of the venture. A native of Africa". During Smith's encounter with Captain Hart, he referred to him as a "white gentleman," and himself as a "poor African" or "the black dog." The injustice that Smith met while on the journey was "enough for a black dog." From this remark by Smith, it is evident that illiteracy was part of the mental siege that the Africans were subjected to by their oppressors. There was a general opinion that Africans were uncivilized barbarians yet the stories that Smith narrate about Africa dismisses those opinion and assumptions. In the preface of Smith's narrative, the slaves are referred to as "beasts" or "domesticated animals" (p.13) which points back to the inferiority complex which made Africans think lowly of themselves. The general assumptions that were already imprinted in the minds of the colonizers could not allow them to feel otherwise of Africa irrespective of what Smith said. The racial thoughts, prejudices, and attitudes had been part and parcel of the European and oriental culture. Aligning this thought to Aristotelian views about class structure, racial idea, which was a significant justification for colonization, asserts that some individuals in society are destined to be masters and others slaves. In the same line of thought, the relationship between the master and the slaves is so for mutual benefit even though conflicts are inevitable always. The colonialists had the best physicians and medicine that could cure diseases that Africans were suffering from. From the letter that Mzinga Mbemba Afonso, the King of Congo wrote to the King of Portugal presents some of the disadvantages that played to give the colonialists an upper hand. Some include provisions, medications and the agents that were present in the African kingdoms. From the letter, Afonso mentions how diseases put them in a very weakening position and that only the foreigners have the best physicians and surgeons, drugs and dispensaries. This was encouraging for the colonizers who observed they were helping the Africans by enslaving them.
The next question to address is how the black colonists slaved, freed and responded to oppression from the white colonists. It is an apparent realization that Africans collaborated with the colonialists in the capture and enslavement of their fellow countrymen. The colonialists had a lot of collaborators who had agents everywhere who pounced on young children and energetic young men especially when the parents were not in the vicinity. Various accounts of slave capture from the selected texts reveal how the narrators were captured the majority of which were young children. To begin with Equiano's case, he was arrested at the age of eleven years old. Even long before his capture, Equiano was well aware of slavery in his hometown in Benin. As an upper-class individual, he was put in charge of a certain number of slaves back at home because his father was a slave-keeper. From his narration, the slaves in Africa were treated well by their masters. The Chiefs were at the forefront in capturing and selling slaves to the colonialists as Equiano puts it that "he applies to a chief for them" (Equiano, p.6) and the chief, for a price, would gather so many and sell them to the slave traders. At some point during his voyage, Equiano interestingly wishes that one day he would have "have land and slaves of my own" and goes ahead to obtain a certificate of good behavior from his master Robert King. (Equiano, p.77). Some blacks and African slave agents were so immersed in the slave trade they did not see the moral side of the trade but only the economic side of it. The motivations behind this trade is a complex one for Equiano as he is involved in capturing fellow slaves and even in the merchant trade involving them. In the same vein, he sympathizes with their mistreatment but ironically takes part in the trade for economic purposes and to seek freedom from his master. For Venture Smith, the local force which had defeated the first group of their captors escorted them to the coast, Fort William, where a British slave ship was waiting. He was only eight years old when he was captured. Smith, similar to Equiano, participated in the slave trade for economic purposes to get wealth and property in addition to purchasing their freedom from their masters. From Afonso's letter to the King of Portugal, it is apparent that the African kings participated in the oppression of fellow Africans through collaboration. The Portuguese provided the collaborators with merchandise, guns, and medication, among other privileges in exchange for slaves and other items such as ivory. The Portuguese told the African Kings that they "should ask in our letters anything we need" and that the health and operation of the colonizers "kingdom depend on us" (p.14); all these are inherent in the letter that Afonso wrote. So, they could ask anything in exchange of slave and slave labor.
Later, when the winds of change began, the black former slaves who had participated in the dehumanizing trade of human beings, championed for the end of slave trade and oppression. The black colonialists and collaborators got involved in various means to get freedom ranging from buying their freedom, to gaining higher class statuses through wealth and property ownership. In the selected texts, Equiano and Smith bought their independence from their masters through hard work and involvement in entrepreneurial activities. According to Afro-American literary tradition, Christianity and education played an integral role in seeking freedom for the slaves. Some of the slaves who were lucky to get an education through Christian missionary programs were able to challenge the whites through an understanding of the bible. For Equiano, he challenged the whites for not doing 'unto others" what they would like to be done unto them (Equiano, p.20). He confronted their knowledge and application of the biblical scriptures and was appalled at how they could not exercise the basic rule of showing human compassion. Equaino called upon slave owners as well as traders to internalize and utilize the biblical principles and free or eventually end slavery. Equiano became a voice of freedom, traversing countries selling his manuscripts and imploring the British authorities to empathize with slaves and free them and eventually put an end to the trade. His text discussed here is one of the revolutionary manuscripts as far as the slave trade, and its abolition is concerned. For Smith, he worked hard to secure freedom for his household and that of a few other black men; and he did that for "no other reason that obliges them" (Smith, p.12). Afonso's damning letter to the King of Portugal contains information that suggests that Africans were tired of the activities of the Portuguese in Africa. Afonso himself was a product of education and later became king in Kongo. In the letter seeki...
Cite this page
Race Relations in the Colonial America Paper Example. (2022, Sep 22). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/race-relations-in-the-colonial-america-paper-example
If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:
- The Temple of Zeus Essay
- Teamwork, Collaboration, Communication, and Knowledge Sharing Paper Example
- Long Term Romantic Relationship - Essay Sample
- Spanking is Not the Best Alternative for Disciplining Children - Essay Sample
- Essay Sample on Hart-Cellar Act 1965: Reuniting Families & Attracting Skilled Labor
- Essay Example on Gender Parity: The Emergence of Work-Life Balance
- Mother-Son Bond in We Need to Talk About Kevin - Essay Sample