Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hiking and Reading

I had an intense week teaching a one-week, all day seminar in African American literature. Pedagogically, this doesn't work because the students don't have enough time to retain any information. If this were a graduate-level seminar it would work because graduate students bring so much knowledge to the classroom, but for an undergraduate class where this might be a student's first introduction to African American literature, the course is very challenging even for the best students. But the students and I made it through, I posted grades tonight, and I get a slight break before the Spring semester begins at the college.

I've been hiking and reading, if you are interested! I'm reading "White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America" wherein the authors, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, argue that although the word "slave" was rarely used to define the legal and social status of the European indentured servants who were forced into or volunteered their labor in the Americas, they were, nonetheless, slaves. The authors hope to add to the vision and history of slavery in British America the image of poor English children who were mostly kidnapped, English female prostitutes who were sold out of the country as brides to English settlers as a way to populate the colonies, English men who either volunteered their labor or were convicts given emigration to British America as an alternative to death, and the Irish who were in constant battle with the English for their sovereignty and humanity and of whom England wanted to exterminate.

I am wrestling with not the concept of Britain's white slaves, but the implication of this sort of discourse on U.S. Africans seeking reparations for being enslaved. I know how discourse can be twisted to accomplish political agendas; therefore, deracializing, or de-Africanizing slavery in British America as a social and economic phenomena that was not overwhelmingly African and based on racism will be very difficult for me to wrap my mind around. Thus far, Jordan and Walsh argue that few white indentured servants survived indentured servitude, acquired land, or gained a social status above that of a slave, if they fulfilled their contract of indenture servitude. I haven't finished the book, and I'm curious how the authors will handle the shift in status of Europeans in the 18th century as they were increasingly defined as whites rather than by their national origins as a way to establish a racial hierarchy and race-based caste system in the United States that even free Africans in this country could not escape.

If you are curious, Toni Morrison states that reading "White Cargo..." was the basis for her novel "A Mercy."

Okay, so it's hiking this weekend, an 11-mile trek, regardless of the weather. Then I will relax on Sunday and break bread with a friend before going off to tap dancing class. My friend teases me about how I prepare for my hiking treks: eating my protein in the morning, not drinking my mochas (ugh, that hurts), hydrating with water, dressing in layers of silk and synthetics, donning my boots and wool socks, and pushing my locs under my wool cap with ear flaps. He told me that I look like I am about to hike the Himalayas. I had to respond, "no, I'd have a GPS tracking system if I was about to hike the Himalayas." We are best friends! Yet despite our 30 year friendship, he still does not see me as a physical person, which I find very ironic since we have hiked, played basketball, swam, scuba dived, and gone bicycle riding together. Hey, he was the person who taught me how to scuba dive. I suppose being middle aged, I think that he presumes that I will stop being physical and sit down. Wrong! I'm going to keep moving until my legs become like concrete. Besides I keep telling him that women in my family have congenital heart defects; yes every last one of us for three generations! Therefore, I can't ever afford to be sedentary.

Hope that all are having a prosperous year. We in metro DC are preparing for the president's inauguration; it's going to be pandemonium in DC and very difficult to get around the metro area next week.


E. said...

Moving the mind, moving around, moving in rhythm and within a momentous movement.


peace 2 U.

Anonymous said...

"I am wrestling with not the concept of Britain's white slaves, but the implication of this sort of discourse on U.S. Africans seeking reparations for being enslaved."

Currently, there are no living "U.S. Africans" that have ever been enslaved, therefore how is it possible that they are seeking reparations for enslavement?

I assume you mean the desired reparations the descendants of black slaves seek.

Moreover, instead thinking that the reparations won't be granted to the ancestors of black slaves, maybe you should be wrestling with the question of whether white slavery descendants are as equally deserving of the same reparations that you imply blacks deserve.

E. said...

Dear "Anonymous" I assume you mean that reparations won't be granted to the descendants of black slaves, because the ancestors of black slaves would not be eligible, theoretically, right?

I think it is important to keep in mind that there are specific circumstances that make the Trans-Atlantic slave trade unique. First, there was the dehumanization used as justification for not only the enslavement of Africans but also the destruction of their culture and ultimately their bodies.

I doubt that these people suffered the same type of long term destruction the Africans did.

Also, the length of time that enslavement process along with the number of African human beings that were terrorized is unique and indeed not suitable for comparison.

We're talking hundreds of years and millions upon millions of people.

I also doubt that the descendants of Britain's white slaves would have had to deal with the same type of lingering effects that anti-African racism has produced nor the violent intensity of those lingering effects.

Assimilation into a higher place within the hierarchal realms of this society would be more efficiently negotiated by white descendants.

That said, reparations can be had by other groups. I think it is important that the proper analysis be utilized. Because some account should be made for families that have also benefited from official and non-official forms of white privilege through the generations after their freedom.