Literature and History: The Development of American Culture to 1865

some thoughts on African Americans double mindsets during early america

October 24

During our last class discussion when we began to discuss the double mindsets of African Americans during these early times in America.I couldn’t help but be in aw of how determined people like Phillis Wheatley must have been to have the task of representing her people while fighting against all odds and understanding that majority if not all of her audience was white.To always have to keep a double mindset seems beyond complicated. Which is maybe why Wheatley started off her poem with a thanks and gratitude towards being enslaved because she was introduced to God through Christianity. But then she turns it around to show the irony in the views of the African Americans that can indeed be “refined” to enter the same heaven as the whites while also sending a reminder to other slaves that they are entitled to the same reward in after life.This really gave me a different outlook.Even while reading the narrative of Olaudah Equiano who was also a slave who tells of his struggles and the obstacles he’s had to endure in his life time.Like the separation from his family at such a young age or the actual trip made to the Americas ,and being sold and resold time and time again.Yet at the same time considering his audience will more then likely be whites ,the same white who enslaved him.


6 responses

  1. cynthiaqiu

    I do not believe Phillis Wheatley may have had a double mindset but the knowledge she gained after she met Susannah Wheatley has certainly strengthen her views on where and who she was. Being taken from her native land, she was now in a foreign country and to survive, she had to adapt quickly. She was intelligent and was able to learn how to read and write English, thus giving her a voice. She began her poem, “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” as so, “Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land.” I believe that she was still emotionally attached to her homeland because it was not by choice that she was taken away. So, how would she have a think in terms of an American if she had never let go of her past and her beliefs?

    As mentioned before, she was smart to have adapted quickly and because of this, she was able to survive and become a free woman. She deemed herself as what others would say about her to blend amongst the people. She deemed herself as “…my benighted soul…” as the other Americans would have said about the African Americans of the time. However, at the end of her poem, she said, “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refined, and join the angelic train.” African Americans and Caucasians will end up in heaven together as they are both people who can be refined, they can both make errors; the Whites are not superior to the African Americans. If she believed that she was of a lower status, she would not have put “Christians” and “Negroes” together as “Negroes” were barely viewed as a human being during her times. They were simply slave workers.

    Likewise with Olaudah Equiano, he was kidnapped from his homeland and did what he could to adapt for survival. One of his owners had named him Jacob whereas his new owner wanted to name him Gustavus. He immediately voiced that he would like to be called Jacob and he received a beating from this new owner. After this time, he listened to his owner and anything the owner said, he followed. If his owner wanted to name him Princess, he would not have fought back because he knows that he will never win. Equiano learned to read and write English and quickly learned the trade of his owners. With every new owner he was under, he was no longer the typical slave/servant but one who helps with more important tasks. With these skills, he became a free man and his journey is extremely inspiring.

    October 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    • If you think about it, this poem really can be taken in different perspectives. She could be saying she is glad that she has had the chance to learn
      about God and Jesus, but that the other people particularly white people in general, do not practice what they preach.  She could be serious about
      mercy being her from her Pagan land, and she could have been sarcastic. It depends on which perspective you look at it from. There are definitely

      November 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm

  2. chessicarose

    Phillis Wheatley is the pioneering voice of African American literature because of her inspiring faith and talent. In her poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America” Wheatley surprisingly expresses gratitude for being brought to America. I found it inspiring because she was so thankful to have been introduced to Christianity. To fully embrace a new religion and truly believe in a new savior must have been a struggle. Her faith in God and equality helped show a crude audience of white slave holders that all humans deserve freedom, and if it is not attained in this life it will be received in the after life. Wheatley is very deserving of her spot in American literature. She used her talent in writing to overcome her circumstances. I feel that she didn’t write to appeal to a white audience in a positive way; It was how she honestly felt about her situation. God had brought her here for a purpose to become someone and do something of significance. She was grateful for her delivery to America because although it was through force it was also the will of God. She was brought to a better place and lived with people who helped her develop rather than break her down. She was an educated woman, a good Christian, and talented writer.

    October 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm

  3. cynthiaqiu

    I agree with Chessica with her thoughts about God because with God, she, Phillis Wheatley is just being honest with herself and her situation. She is not trying to please the White Americans but simply trying to communicate her situation with other people. She does not believe there is any separation as they are human beings, just with different skin color. Whether the person is black or white, he or she will end up along the same road after death and on the angelic train.

    Her writing really voiced herself and brought attention to the world. She put her story out there and people listened. This was a great opportunity and it was actually all thanks to the people who brought her here. She may have not enjoyed her situation that she was bought to America but it was because of them that she learned how to read and write her story. As Chessica said, “She [Philis] was grateful for her delivery to America because although it was through force it was also the will of God. She was brought to a better place and lived with people who helped her develop rather than break her down. She was an educated woman, a good Christian, and talented writer.”

    November 4, 2011 at 1:46 am

  4. jacquibonaventure

    I think Equiano is one to be recognized as well. I see what you are saying about Phillis having to write with a double mindset, i definitely agree she needed to do that, but i think Equiano was a lot more honest and in your face with his writing. He went into full detail about everything that was happening and while doing so was expressing how he was feeling while it was happening. I’m sure he cleaned it up a bit with how in depth his feelings about the events happening were, but when he was kidnapped you could feel his confusion, fear, depression and all around hurt. You could empathize his desire to see his sister again and no matter how much he changed his goals, you still were aware that this was a man who was taken right from his backyard. I really like how real his writing was and how honest it was knowing most people reading it would be white. I also like how he described his first encounters with foreign objects to him and how he associated it with magic. It was very educational to me because even though i was aware of the naive mind native americans had to the european customs and ways, i never took time to think how they were actually perceiving all of these things. When he would talk about the ship being powered by magic, or he would be scared to make a mistake because the paintings on the walls of his master may have souls in them keeping watch of him; it reeled me into his story even more. Moments in his story like that really remind you how extreme the difference in lifestyle was. You know europeans and native americans clearly didn’t have the same day to day life, but those moments actually give a tangible feel on how different their worlds really were. Even the travel in the ship, when Equiano constantly wondered or asked if the europeans were going to eat them or he would be thankful he lived another day because he wasn’t eaten, it gives an small insight to how these europeans kept some kind of peace on the ships. Though Equiano was lucky enough to encounter some men who were honest and said they had no intention to do that, the europeans who took advantage of this naive fear, which were most europeans, shed light onto how sincere the fear was. The minute they used his fear as a threat, he believed them.

    November 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

  5. I agree that Equiano should be recognized for his writing. However I actually wanted to hear an angry voice in his work. I feel he did a good job of giving us examples of inequality in detail, however he never expressed true hatred. It was a calm passive mood mostly because Equano realized he was a little better off than some other slaves. I wonder if he would have had a harder slave life would his writing be as passive or more aggressive and angry. Apess I feel gives the class the perspective of a scorned man. Someone who wants whites to see their wrong doings and isn’t afraid to rustle their feathers a bit. by angering them it shows that they have no control over other races. After all if they can dish it out they should be able to take it. They should be able to hear the truth and fully acknowledge their wrong doings. They should feel remorse overall. I think that is all that the oppressed really want.

    November 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm

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