“Slavery is bad”, is something one is tempted to slap onto a work regarding the exposure of the cruelties of the slave trade and its participants. With a grand chunk of the text focused on depicting this unjust treatment, something slips by the text uneasily, perhaps by the conscious effort of Equiano. The freeman turns out to have owned slaves, but there is a bigger argument to be discussed rather than the simple labeling of Equiano as a hypocrite. Looking deeper, one must analyze particularly why the writer who clearly wrote his story to criticize slavery chose to include his own partaking of the same sin. It could be his simple desire to be honest, but clearly he defends his act using the same rhetoric as his white counterparts, this idea that he treats them well enough for them not to be just slaves but rather like family. There are definite holes in his argument here, especially when he selects the best slaves of “[his] own countrymen” (PDF, 138). It shows a bias for certain men, even hinting that he classifies men at different levels, just as the European owners would. But why is this relevant then? The idea can be expanded upon through the given political cartoon—
Here one can slowly see that this work is one not blatantly screeching that slavery is good, but rather taking a stance that the abolitionist movement is exaggerating their arguments. This is specifically highlighted by the man covering the telescope with what seems to be inhumane treatment of slaves, from the happy, peaceful sight of seemingly lazy foreigners across the sea. Sadly, this is fed via the same rhetoric that Equiano is supporting by buying slaves and further by being selective with them. The suggestion that there is a right way to be slaves is the exact argument the picture is making: the ideal that if slaves are being treated ok there is no reason to worry. Equiano’s argument is problematic, specifically due to this. If he had simply said this was out of compassion, out of direct empathy, this would have been taken a different way; however, it is the fact that he declares these men above the others and the fact that he tries to defend his purchase by saying he’ll treat them right gives the impression that he wouldn’t be concerned with slavery if it was practiced in the manner of his country or through his methods. Quite the problem there, Equiano, quite the problem. It’s not mere hypocrisy at work here, rather a whole new spectrum: defining what is slavery then. What if men worked as indentured servants? Workers? Interns? Where would Equiano draw the line for black men of today’s age?
One can assume then, Equiano is speaking against slavery to a certain degree – hinting at a justification in a certain case under the right circumstances. One cannot thus merely state that he is completely for abolition, nor can one simply state that he is a complete hypocrite because this entire work is aimed to call an action against the widely practiced injustices. It is important to listen to these in-between arguments, and sometimes indeed it’s a bit questionable to take a neutral route. What to take from Equiano, is that if you wish to take a side, you have to stay firm to it, otherwise you will receive harsh criticism, as seen by the heavy amount of backlash he has received from my fellow classmates.