The Bad Middle Route: Equiano’s Grave Mistake

“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—

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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.

 

-William Fernandez

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17 thoughts on “The Bad Middle Route: Equiano’s Grave Mistake

  1. Pingback: In-class student blog comments | English Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century (1660-1837) Gone Global

  2. I think one of the most important things you talk about is the ambiguity of slavery and “abolishonist”. Almost nothing is black and white and you really highlighted the gray areas within Equiano’s narrative. It was a pretty complete idea, if you were going to turn it into a paper I would suggest even more textual evidence and a focus on ambiguity on both sides of the argument.

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  3. The most original idea is the claim that Equino also falls into this idea of owning slaves and treating them as family, this is something I also found very interesting and wrote about in my blog post. This post also talks about where Equino really stands on his view of abolishment of slavery wich brings in an interesting twist. The blog post can be improved by providing more textual evidence. Great post!

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  4. I genuinely admire your critical thinking in this blog post. Many of our classmates are quick to choose a side, however, you’re recognizing there’s a medium to every argument in which I agree with. Perhaps you could expand more on how you believe his argument would have been taken differently or lightly if he had mentioned his empathy and compassion.

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  5. Your main argument seems to be that there is more going on in both the picture and book in that firstly, slavery may not be all that bad, and secondly, that Equino himself seems to be contradictory of the fact that he wishes to abolish slavery and see it as an evil thing but he too takes part in the act. It might be more effective for you to develop more the hypocrisy of both Equiano and the picture and then better transition the exaggeration of the image and how that may relate to exaggerated text in the narrative. There seems to be a sense of an underlying message of corruption even by the good guys (the people who look like quakers) and the fact that they are clearly bribed by the opposing trading company as well, which you could also develop more in relation to Equinos original stance on the British and slavery as well as his own personal words v.s actions in relation to slavery.

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  6. I think an interesting idea that you have here is within your last statement, “What to take from Equiano, is that if you wish to take a side, you have to stay firm to it”. A lot of what you’re focusing on is the way in which Equiano presents his argument, and indeed how his credibility and trust in him as a person is seemingly lost through his actions that mirror the Europeans. The very actions he is talking against. In this, I think you do a good job in observing the questionable behavior of Equiano. However, going back to your statement I quoted, this is a question that is posed in the modern sense. Indeed, today we would encourage you to pick a side, and stay loyal to it, in an observational sense. But there was such an intense power play here, Equiano was desperate to get the Europeans to listen, and to stay engaged in his text, to try and fit in his message: look at how you’re treating us. So my question to you is, could Equiano’s text be successful if it were written in a style where he picks a side and stays firm to it? If it was overly bashing the European treatment of slaves, why would any European read it? If it was simply praising Europeans in there actions, then what purpose was this text made for?

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  7. Your blog is well organized and easy to follow. The ideas mentioned were ones of deep intellectual thought. I agree with your assumption of Equiano’s views against slavery is questionable.

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  8. This blog post is very well written and explains every point that is brought up. No stone is left unturned! I think that this post can be improved with more textual evidence that can support, maybe complicate your post. Although Equiano seems to be a hypocrite for buying slaves, his narrative is very telling of other things that are at play. For instance, what are the repercussion of a former slave writing about anti-slavery?

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  9. Great post! I agree with your argument. The most original idea in this post is the idea that Equiano “wouldn’t be concerned with slavery if it was practiced in the manner of his country or through his methods”. It’s a thought provoking statement. You could improve the post by providing a passage from the text that illustrates this idea.

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  10. I couldn’t agree any more with you, as we have analyzed further into what we have discussed about slavery and the mere fact that Equiano himself purchased slaves is very important to point out. Rather I would be careful when we use the word “hypocrite”, since we aren’t 100% sure as to what his intentions morally may be. Even though we know he was a born again Christian, we can be easily deceived, and can become emotional if we use the word “hypocrite”. We can even ask the question about what did he think was the concept idea of being a born again Christian. It is fair to say we can’t completely say what Equiano have meant, but it is fair to assume what he may have intended to do with his work.

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  11. Ad hominem in the first sentence, strawman throughout, lack of textual evidence except for one two-word quote, unprofessional use of “screeching”, unhealthy narrative building and labeling (“problematic”), slippery slope (“Where does one draw the line”), failing to solidify cohesive position throughout post, only clarifying at the end. I’m judging this too harshly of course but these issues are all present and it could be done differently. Arguments should be cohesive and free of prejudice. If equiano is indeed in support of slavery in some form use the text to quantify to what degree he would do that. Because the evidence is in there, somewhere. We cant afford to get lost in the world of what he probably thought when we have an enormous text of what he did think

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  12. When you said Equiano thinks slavery is ok as long as he treat the slaves right is interesting. The way you brought up slavery now and where to draw the line with black men today makes me think that since slavery is still present, what is considered slavery and what isn’t? I like how you portray both sides of the argument and stay neutral to the issues.

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  13. I think the post’s main idea is: Equiano is a hypocrite because, while this “text is focused on depicting this unjust treatment”, he himself “selects the best slaves” and justifies it by saying that he treats his slaves well, as well as posing the question about: defining slavery.
    I think that you could improve by considering:
    1.) Is it possible that Equiano had to be a slave owner in order to have his work read by slave owners?
    Also consider: if Equiano would purchase African slaves and “if [slavery] was practiced in the manner of his country or through his methods”…well, isn’t this still upholding slavery though? Because you said that if he would have had compassion and empathy, it “would have been taken a different way.” I suggest you mention that any form of slavery is slavery…or mentioning something like that.
    -Israel Alonso

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  14. I think the strongest statement in this blog is: “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.” I love how this blog directly addresses the fallacy of neutrality. I also loved the positioning of the image in the text, instead of at the top so readers could take a minute to look it over before hearing the writer’s evaluation on it. One thing that might improve this blog would have been to remove (or enhance) the casual tone. In a way, when I read the “Oh, Equiano” part I almost felt as though the writer was shaking his head at him as one might do a child, not actively condemning him for his faulty reasoning.

    Extra Credit: 10/25

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  15. Your main point seems to be that Equiano was just as much of a liar as the pro-slavers that he fought against. “Sadly, this is fed via the same rhetoric that Equiano is supporting by buying slaves and further by being selective with them” It might help improve your post if you add more detail about the cartoon because your main argument seems to only talk about Equiano.

    extra credit 10/25

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  16. The most original idea in your post is “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”. To strengthen your argument I suggest you present reasons as to why Equiano is not a full blown abolitionist.

    Extra Credit 9/25

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  17. The image greatly allows me to live in the moment of the time period by including it. I would have liked to see more evidence on how Equiano empathized with the slave trade.

    EC 10/25

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