Equiano’s first-hand experience to whitewashing

By: Katherine Hernandez

In The Interesting Narrative written by Olaudah Equiano, Equiano includes many literary pieces by English writers that allow him to express his experience in life in a way that can reach the audience of the time. His narrative includes many writings that allow him to share his experience in a way that could be considered contemporary and even modern at the time. However, one must question whether the inclusivity of these writers is a way for him to ease his experience through the worlds of other or if it is done in order for his work to be appealing to the readers of his time. Was the inclusivity of these an approach to the white-washing he had to go through in order to be accepted into society? Was the use of English literary work the only way his writing would be taken seriously?


A clear example of this is in chapter 6: Hope and Despair, page 66 of my book version, in which in order for the pain he has gone through and will endure he must quote a poem by Thomas Day and John Bicknell, named The Dying Negro, in which the following stanzas are used,


“Where slaves are free, and men oppress no more.

Fool that I was, inur’d so long to pain,

To trust to hope, or dream of joy again.”


It is here that it shows how in order for Equiano’s pain from being forced onto a ship towards the West Indies he must be able to translate it through the work of English Literature. It is as if the pain that he feels for leaving his friends and venturing into the unknown makes him feel as yet another black man who has fallen into the grips of slavery. In order for Equiano’s to be accepted into society, he must conform to the white standard of living. This is a common theme seen throughout the novel, in which an order for him to be respected he constantly has to validate his actions and feelings through not only the use of English literature but also the use of the Catholicism through the bible which is also considered an important part of literature.

The way that Equiano was whitewashed into society is still seen to this day. Modern society refuses to fully acknowledge the culture of black people or any type of person of color and at times it is often seen that the strife’s people of color go through are not acknowledge unless a white person speaks out about them. Equiano’s use of English Literature in his writing allowed him to express his troubles in his personal narrative however it also shows the racism and whitewashing that happened to him and that still prevails today.

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