Something that I’ve always struggled with has been the idea of knowing that people in other countries and places suffer far greater hardships than we (modern day Americans) currently do, but also not letting that be an excuse as to why Americans might be exempt from acknowledging the level of responsibility that we have as a model to other nations. One specific excerpt in this piece that I highlight stated this:
“It is no secret that America is today hailed as leader of the democratic world. This carries with it a great deal of moral responsibility. Firstly, it entails that the American concept and practice of democracy within its own territories should acknowledge the necessity of equal opportunity for all citizens, no matter the racial origin. Secondly, it implies that the United States should set an example for all other nations by taking the lead in removing from its national life all signs and traces of racial intolerance, arrogance or discrimination for which it criticizes some other nations,” (section 9).
This quote was profound to me because based on the responsibilities it outlines, we are not and have not been credible enough as a nation to be “leader of the democratic world”. This excerpt very much reminded me of the Double V Campaign as well, in the sense that it highlights the injustice we do by pointing out flaws of other nations and seeking to fight on their behalf, when we don’t fight for those same causes on out own land. In my opinion, America prides itself on being “leader of the democratic world” for the sake of status and not morality.
One thing that I find extremely interesting about how we define the recovery of southern states during the Reconstruction period is that there are a number of responses that can be correct. In history courses we talk about how whites in the South were basically helpless at the initial thought of having to live a life without slavery. However in a documentary called “After Shock: Beyond the Civil War,” a scholar was quoted saying that “many believe the south never really fell.” In the sense that white supremacy has prevailed in our society, I can see how it (the south) never fell. This is interesting though because in History of Black America we talked about how they (southern whites) never really bounced back. In terms of economics, I agree that the south has never fully recovered from the abolition of slavery and what that meant for the southern economy.
These are two very different answer discovered by looking through very different lenses. I think this goes to show the importance of context and perspective because there might very well be many probable responses to a topic like this, all of which are correct, but very much contingent upon the lens through which the subject is being examined.
My experience with these three pieces was interesting because I began with the Henry Louis Gates Jr. article, “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game”. I was specifically compelled by a paragraph on page 3 that makes reference to the apologetic nature of West Africans reflecting upon their role in northern slavery. Prior to our class discussion of context based on history and even of the writer, I was persuaded that Gates might have had a reasonable argument. He states on page 4 of the article, “Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent”. He had a fair point, or at least so I thought.
Upon reading the Gomez article and watching “Traces of the Trade”, I came to understand that what Gates was trying to argue was not reliable, as it did not take into account the context in which the slave trade was happening. At the time, the slave trade in West Africa looked overwhelmingly different than what slavery in the United States would become. In a sense, West Africans involved in the trade were deceived and manipulated by the wines, weaponry, and other material items that Europeans traded with them for slaves. Gomez closes his article on page 4 by saying “It is difficult to imagine assigning equal culpability to a community fending off the slave trade with the European nations bankrolling and in ultimate control of the entire affair, especially when those European nations were providing the weaponry”.
The Gates and Gomez articles became easier to distinguish and digest in the context of “Traces of the Trade”. When the DeWolfs are in Ghana speaking with a Ghanaian historian, he explains to them that the idea of slavery starting in West Africa is false. He emphasizes that the slave trade in West Africa was nothing new but also that the morals of northern slavery were not in congruence with what was happening in West Africa. We were able to see these differences with Equiano.
Connecting the paragraph from Gates referring to the embarrassment West African leaders felt toward their roles in northern slavery but then the young Ghanaian boy in the film asking Lain De Wolf, “are you not ashamed to be here?” shows that having context and evidence goes a long way in understanding just how invalid a seemingly persuasive argument can be. It also shows how important it is to present reliable information.