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August 22, 2012

Essay Paper on The exploits of African Americans


Exploits of African Americans
Consequences:
Both black intellectuals and slaves formed their opinions and theories about whites within a racial discourse constructed by whites. Blacks in the nineteenth century reduced white supremacist ideas about Africans to issues of social power, charging that whites maintained black inferiority in order to justify exploitation and abuse. Black ethnographers such as Frederick Douglass and John McCune Smith developed a revisionist argument against white racism that operated within the confines of white racialist dialogue. These intellectuals adhered to a strict environmentalist position concerning racial categories, allowing for a temporary black inferiority while proposing arguments about future ascendancy for the African race. Moreover, according to these thinkers, one only needed look at ancient Egypt as proof of the potential for black merit because the ethnographers charged that black Africans once ruled that advanced land.
Slaves constituted the majority of the black population in the nineteenth century, but without an education and suffering under the yoke of illiteracy these men and women knew little about the ethnological debates occurring between educated whites and blacks. But the enslaved still recognized and responded to the racism they endured on a daily basis. The slaves realized that southern whites saw them as little more than domesticated animals, but African-Americans never internalized this insulting comparison. Blacks in bondage often defined whites in terms of their economic and social power, and rarely through color distinctions. Ultimately, enslaved blacks accepted certain distinctions between themselves and whites, one example being the issue of divine justice and how whites would suffer at the hands of God for their poor treatment of black slaves, but again these differences had little to do with the color of the skin.
The black arguments against white racialism fell, almost without exception, within the constraints of a racial society. Black ethnographers argued against white theories on race by revising and not completely redefining those ideas. Their thoughts did not bring about a paradigm shift in racial relations because of the embedded structures of racism within American society.
Development/Destruction of the Ethnic Group:
A little known chapter in American History is the peonage, or forced labor, of African Americans after the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans were arrested on minor or flimsy charges such as vagrancy or changing employers without permission, or on false charges or were kidnapped outright. The were required to pay fines and when they (usually) couldn't afford them, they were sentenced to long terms of forced labor on farms, factories and mines where they endured hard and dangerous labor with inadequate food in dirty cells with filthy pest-ridden mattresses without a change of clothes for weeks. They were subject to beatings and torture and many died by accident or disease or first or second degree murder from the guards and owners. Women, in a continuation of the rights that white men have believed they were entitled to since being slave holders, were used sexually. When the convict's time was up they were told they had incurred debt and were re-sentenced. Often they never got out.

This type of slavery was worse than being owned as a slave because whereas an owned slave was valuable property the forced laborer was simply an expendable work horse to be used up and abused.

Whites were either complicit or looked the other way in most cases. Even the federal government, whose presidents were either mildly racist as in the case of Theodore Roosevelt, or openly white supremacist such as Woodrow Wilson, decided to leave the south to work out it's own issues. Right after the war it was clear that whites in the government and society as a whole either thought it too much trouble and too much of a sacrifice to integrate blacks into society or plainly did not want them as equals. As early as 1876 Ulysses S. Grant told his cabinet that the fifteenth amendment which gave blacks the right to vote had been a mistake and said: "It had done the Negro no good and had been a hindrance to the south and by no means a political advantage to the north." It was only World War II that ended peonage because it was recognized that the enemies of the U.S. would use the downtrodden second-class citizenship of blacks against them.

Southerners, angry that slavery had been abolished just continued the practice. The rights to hold office and to vote which were given African Americans after the war were taken away in the south by the turn of the century. In fact, Woodrow Wilson when elected in 1912 took away many of the few rights African Americans had left.

Even without the forced labor slavery system, life for blacks after the war was akin to slavery. Blackman says that the work available to a black man was "free labor camps that functioned like prison, cotton tenancy that equated to serfdom or prison mines filled with slaves."

Similarities with Other Ethnic Groups

The African Americans in the United States and the Oromos in the Ethiopian empire can be positively compared - both developed their respective freedom movements in opposition to racial/ethnonational oppression, cultural domination, exploitation, colonial domination, and underdevelopment.
These two ethnonational minority groups are similar in numerical size, but different in political strength. The size of African American and Oromo populations are almost the same: about 30 million each. But African Americans constitute only 13 percent of the U.S. population of 270 million; Oromos are estimated between 40 percent and 60 percent of the Ethiopian population of 60 million. Because of the Ethiopian colonial politics, disagreement arises over the actual size of the Oromo population. While African Americans are one of the ethnonational minority groups in the United States in number as well as in political and economic power, the Oromos are the largest ethnonation in number, and yet have little political and economic power, in Ethiopia. Since the African American case is widely known and often considered a paradigmatic case of racial/ethnonational oppression, the Black movement is well recognized. In contrast, the Oromo collective grievances and national struggle have been denied legitimacy both regionally and internationally.

African Americans were forced to enter into the global capitalist system via racial slavery in the seventeenth century. Oromos were forced into that same system during the last decades of the nineteenth century after this system had gained strength and intensity through colonialism and slavery. In 1619, twenty Africans (seventeen men and three women) were brought by a vessel to a place the newly arrived English settlers called Jamestown, Virginia. These Africans became indentured servants who had bound themselves to work for masters for a specified length of time in return for paying the cost of their transportation across the Atlantic. Indentured servitude had come early in response to a great need for labor. Considering that this kind of labor recruitment system was expensive, the settlers found a way to reduce the status of Africans, who were there and arriving in the colonies, to slaves. According to Benjamin Quarles, “By 1700 indentured servitude was no longer the preferred labor base in the plantation colonies. It had been superseded by slavery, brought about by the rising cost of free labor, which had become scarcer, especially after England tightened up on the kidnapping that had been a common practice in her seaport towns.” Although indentured servitude was at the beginning practiced on Africans and poor Europeans, the latter were never enslaved. Africans were commodities and “the average cost of a healthy male was $60 in merchandise; a woman could be bought for $15 or less.”
Slavery was mentioned in Virginia laws in 1662, and it was legalized in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, and New Jersey in 1706. Since the founding of the thirteen colonies, African Americans have built the United States without enjoying the fruit of their labor. These Africans resisted slavery by expressing their dissatisfaction through telling stories and singing songs, suicide, killing their masters, poisoning the children of their masters, fleeing, and establishing maroon settlements, which in North America were unsustainable. It was estimated that by 1860 there were 4 million African slaves and 27 million Europeans in the United States. The American capitalist system response to the presence of African Americans was to invent a racial caste system (slavery and later racial segregation) and to maintain it through its institutions to prevent the advancement of African Americans as individuals and an ethnonational group for the benefit of White elites and society. After surviving under racial slavery and American apartheid for more than three centuries in the United States, African Americans effectively consolidated their struggles for social justice, self-determination, freedom, and democracy in the first half of the twentieth century.
In contrast, Oromos strengthened their national liberation struggle in the early 1960s after suffering under settler colonialism for less than a century. Ethiopian settler colonialism was practiced through five institutions: slavery, the nafxanya-gabbar system
(semislavery), garrison cities, an Oromo collaborative class, and the colonial landholding system. During their colonial expansion, Abyssinians who later called themselves Ethiopians enslaved some Oromos, Sidamas, Afars, Somalis, Walayitas, Hadiyas, and others; some of these slaves were exported as commodities while others became domestic slaves who preformed duties such as carrying firewood, fetching water, grinding grain, cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and bearing and giving birth to young slaves without any payment except basic food, clothing, and shelter. When Oromos and other colonized peoples failed to pay taxes, their children were enslaved. The number of the Oromo people, according to some estimates, was reduced from ten to five million by slavery, war-induced famine, and destructive wars during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The nafxanya-gabbar system enabled Ethiopian soldiers, clergymen, and colonial administrators and their Oromo collaborators to exact labor and agricultural products from the Oromo farmers. Those farmers were divided among the colonial settlers and forced to provide food, tribute, and tax revenues both in cash and in kind. The colonialists built their garrison cities in different parts of Oromia and linked themselves to the Oromo population through an Oromo collaborative class to control the population and extract economic resources. The Oromo intermediaries were given one-fourth of the expropriated Oromo lands, while three fourths of the lands became the property of the Ethiopian colonial settlers. As a result, the majority of Oromos became landless tenants, sharecroppers, and poor.
What the American racial capitalist system did to African Americans, Ethiopian settler colonialism and global imperialism did to Oromos by introducing an entire population to previously unknown slavery, semi-slavery, tenancy, sharecropping, and poverty. The struggles of these two peoples to escape these conditions should best be regarded as an integral part of anti-colonial forces that emerged to challenge racial/ethnonational stratification in different parts of the modern world. However, these two movements have not received adequate attention. As African American nationalism developed to resist racial segregation and oppression, colonialism and racist democracy,
Oromo nationalism developed to overthrow Ethiopian settler colonialism and its set of oppressive institutions in Oromia. Both African Americans and Oromos have been struggling against the racist policies of the United States and Ethiopia, respectively. Indirectly, Oromos also struggle against U.S.-led global imperialism that sustains Ethiopian colonialism.
Family by J. California Cooper:

The novel “Family” by J. California Cooper should be included in the senior English curriculum because it is a quick and easy reading (in length, not subject). It shares the strengths and weaknesses of the writer’s collections and the charm of her direct, colloquial voice usually outweighs the predictability of events and sentiments. Although much has been written about the institution of slavery, with “Family”, Cooper has taken the slave narrative and recreated it as an epic, yet colloquial, poem.

Brief Summary:

A story of triumph and tragedy, the effects of slavery through multiple generations and those it touched, told from the viewpoint of a ghost. A woman tries to save her children from sharing the same fate as hers, the dehumanizing and cruel life of a slave, and tries to poison her children in a failed attempt to provide them an escape from abuse and forced servitude. Unfortunately, she dies but is stuck in limbo and watches as her children grow up and experience life without her, trying their best to serve the hardships of slavery and the years following the Civil War. The author provides moments of amusement while dealing with this harsh subject but the darkness still penetrates into the readers’ being.
Controversial Issues:

The novel troubles popular understandings of racial signifiers, configuring racial identity as socially constructed and deeply unstable.

Beneficial Aspects:

This very short novel packs a wallop of emotion. California Cooper writes in the manner which the people of that time spoke, and of the complex emotions of the races.

Effects:

On the face of it, this novella is about slavery. However, under the skin and bones, it is a beautifully rendered tale of human endurance and hope, no less because the tone the main character uses to tell the story of her family is not engulfed in anger or bitterness. Instead the style is both lyrical and crisp and perfect for allowing the reader to absorb brutal details without getting too heart sick to continue. In fact the novel ends on a note of hope and connectivity, a real feat to pull off given the subject matter. Readers love the way she playfully wrestles and uses word play to present the concept of time and the times in this novel. The novel Family, a little treasure of a read, can surely be recommended.

A few quotes from the book:

... so, once upon another time, a long, long time ago, time didn't mean
anything to my people, exceptin (sic) it was hard times all the time. And time can
look endless. That's the time I was born.

... When the children was sold and the money used to buy more land or somethin
for the land, Always named whatever was bought by the name of her child. So
there was fields named Lester, Ruby, and Lark, and whole lotta cows named Satti.

... So they loved in silence and touching. Always's heart overflowed so til it
hurt. He did not know where her other children was tho. It's always something to
remind you that everything ain't never gonna be alright!


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