Olaudah Equiano’s narrative highlights his personal experience being under slavery, and escaping the institution. Equiano conveys a message of abolition. However, there are instances within the text that he, too, falls for looking at aspects of slavery with justification. The prime example is a certain passage from the text that I found troubling.

When Equiano is speaking about the overseers he says they are “indeed for the most part persons of the worst character of any denomination of men in the West Indies. Unfortunately, many humane gentlemen, by not residing on their estates, are obliged to leave the management of them in the hands of these human butchers..”

This quote is conflicting because while it does denounce the horrors of slavery, and the overseers,  it suggests that the owners of the estates are ‘humane gentleman’ who are simply “obliged” to leave their slaves under the cruel overseer. This idea is conflicting because even if the owner did not horribly abuse their slave (which is impossible to even phrase because owning a person is abuse itself)…the fact that the owner’s have a slave at all isn’t the least bit humane. The passage can be compared to the satirical cartoon.

The satirical cartoon that is by an unknown author in 1832 (bottom) is arguing that there was mass production of literature and reports of the horrors of slavery. It’s apparent that this is a point that is being highlighted because on the bottom of the cartoon there are books and papers scattered all over the floor that read “Slavery” “horrible punishment” “brutal outrage” etc. The man that is coming out of the barrel is saying that the “suffering African called a slave” is facing violation of rights, he is saying that the slaves don’t have the reform bills that the white Britains have. However, the right part of the cartoon shows the slaves dancing with joy. There is a depiction of a mother, father, and son. The mother is grabbing the son, a toddler, and the father is telling the baby that he ate “yam yam” and that his belly is full. This is contrasted with the left that shows a white European family where the father has his face buried in his hand, and is grieving. The mother tasking the father why an “industrious and honest man” is starving in the country. The father is basically saying that the only way he wouldn’t starve is if he was a slave “fed by the parish”.

The cartoon is depicting the typical rhetoric used to further oppress people that have been victims of abuse saying: “it’s not that bad. Everyone is just sensitive” and “other people have it worse than you”. Similarly, the passage is excusing the owners, and saying ‘well they weren’t terrible, it was the overseers that were terrible’. While Equiano was for abolishing slavery, and his voice is extremely important,there are parts in his narrative where we see how the slave trade subconsciously internalized justification of certain parts of the institution.

-Beyanira Bautista


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