This narrative is both powerful and striking in understanding the true depth and twisted nature of slavery. It is not enough to just say slavery is bad, and move on. It becomes one’s responsibility to understand its very nature and how it came to exist and remains.
To understand firstly, one can examine the two warring sides which existed. Those who supported and did not support slavery. Looking at the dynamics between a narrative written by a former slave and a political cartoon drawn by a white man, one can begin to comprehend the different views each held, and their ideas, which can stand for both halves of the argument.
Equiano’s narrative begins with what seems him having to qualify himself almost to an overdone state. He assures he is moral and that what he writes in this memoir is all true. It struck me as odd to have seen this but then I realized that there is going to be anti-abolitionist people who have and will read this text and either willingly or subconsciously believe it to be fake and truly in their hearts believe slavery was not as bad as people have made the world to believe. Where do I get that notion? In the political cartoon “John Bull Taking a Clear View on the Negro Slavery Question” the artist satirizes the abolitionist’s stand against slavery. The cartoon features children signing petitions (in a way that makes it seem that those who sign are not truly valid voters or white men, to be honest), corrupt payments of people to support ending the sugar business that is fueled by slave power, and even alleged falsification of the reality of slavery (example: a poorly drawn picture showing sad Africans in front of an island of happy and peaceful Africans). The cartoon paints abolitionists as self-serving liars who ignore the poor in their own country. The outright disbelief shown in this cartoon represents the truly ignorant reality known to those who supported slavery. This doubt in the evil and wrongness of slavery is what forces Equiano to have to include an entire section promising what he writes his true and moral.
Against this view of a “false” slavery, Equiano’s narrative stands as a clear and real first-hand experience of the raw and emotional life led by slaves. He spares no detail in recounting the way he had felt being dehumanized and treated as less than human.
“O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery.”
Equiano recounts the way in which he wants to ask these white men essentially where are their morals? They claim to have God and yet have no mercy in tearing apart families and reducing men to animals. The questions hold back nothing in showing the decrepit and grotesque nature of the slave trade and those involved and lies bare any notion that they may be “exaggerating” in any way what it truly felt like to be owned by another human. Equiano’s narrative serves as proof and resistance against the euro-centric world that even when he’s free, even dead, and even 1000s of years later still tries to silence him and reduce his pain, tries to invalidate the evil and torture he suffered in hopes of easing the blame and guilt of the slave trade.
-Caitlyn (Cait) Grabill