Double Consciousness in Equiano

The topic of slavery has always had aspects of sentimentality attached to it, but this political cartoon of the 19th century politicizes the implications it had on the demographic of the countries affected by the slave trade. More than anything, it shows the economic impacts it had on the poor Irish in America in addition to the commercial interest of The East India company. In other words, some of the domestic outcry was that abolitionist movements were not exactly the most benevolent organizations in the ending of slavery since they were being paid by the corporate interest of the East India Co. Money is always in part of the equation when it comes to parties of opposing opinions. While this cartoon implies the rhetoric of abolitionist movements was to appeal to the sentimentality of Americans, the maker of this cartoon is ironically appealing to his audience by using the pathos of the audience regarding the Irish refugees. In Olaudah Equiano’s narrative, he appeals to the sentimentality of the reader as well, but he also uses a type of bias rhetoric to appeal to his readers, largely white. In volume 2, chapter 6, he cites a quote of one of the people that he served to appeal to white readers about his own docile sensibility in order to avoid alienating white readers. The person who oversaw Equiano says, “I consider him an excellent servant. I do certify that he always behaved well, and that he is perfectly trustworthy” (193), and this removes any hostility away from his confronting of the question of slavery. Furthermore, he is, as W.E.B. Dubois would say, putting a “veil” on his own subjectivity by seeing himself as an inherently second-class citizen. By doing so, he is assimilating to the culture of whites in Britain, but not assimilating their full citizenship. This is also emphasized when he alludes to his own slaves as his “poor countrymen” and “poor creatures” when he implies that he will not be there to watch over them (193-194). In effect, he is placing yet another layer of marginalization by lowering his own slaves even further from full citizenship. Equiano is using the benefit of his freedom and economic status to bring himself closer to full citizenship, but he is exploiting the status of his own slaves to imply a sort of hierarchy over them by claiming ownership. However, as Dubois would say, he also has a double consciousness that allows him to see through two lenses of subjectivity: white and black. Although he is trying to exploit his status of freedom, he is also empathizing with his fellow “countrymen” to advocate for the better treatment of them. On one hand he is dehumanizing them by elevating his status, but on the other he is also using sentimentality to appeal to the readers about the better treatment of slaves.

–Cesar R

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4 thoughts on “Double Consciousness in Equiano

  1. I think the main point of this blog was: “Although he is trying to exploit his status of freedom, he is also empathizing with his fellow “countrymen” to advocate for the better treatment of them. On one hand he is dehumanizing them by elevating his status, but on the other he is also using sentimentality to appeal to the readers about the better treatment of slaves.” However, earlier on I thought this was going to a blog about drawing connections between the similarities in treatment between “free” Africans and the Irish. My suggestion for future blogs would be to stick with one main argument and run with it throughout. This closing statement seems to be strongest statement in your blog and definitely supports the title. However, the correlation with the Irish deludes this argument by over complicating (instead of enhancing that. I would have liked to see the idea of double consciousness tied in differently to the comic.

    Extra Credit: 6/25

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  2. The argument, “In Olaudah Equiano’s narrative, he appeals to the sentimentality of the reader as well, but he also uses a type of bias rhetoric to appeal to his readers, largely white.” does have plenty of detail and you do use quite a large amount of evidence. The argument, in simpler terms, is about Equiano’s “veil” versus Cruickshank’s blatant exclamation in his cartoons and which one sided with which group during the anti-slavery movement. i would like to say, if you took a look at some of the information about Equiano, both in his narrative and in your post, you might notice that he wasn’t quite the abolitionist he seemed.

    extra credit 5/25

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  3. The most original idea in your post is: “In other words, some of the domestic outcry was that abolitionist movements were not exactly the most benevolent organizations in the ending of slavery since they were being paid by the corporate interest of the East India Co.” This point can be helped if you describe in detail the elements which lead you to making that conclusion. Quoting Dubois served the point you were trying to make well but there seems to be a disconnect between the first half of the post and the second.

    Extra Credit 5/25

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  4. Good analysis on how a person is placed in a position between horrid past, and prosperous future. It is not easy as a person to relate with both without seeming to look down on the past. Would have been nice to see this hypothetical interpreted for such a person in a particular time.

    EC 6/25

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