American Vernacular and Prejudice

August 28, 2006 § 4 Comments

indiansMost of you have probably noticed by the posts on this blog that I find history very interesting. History reveals what we should know about places, people and circumstances. However, in the case of African-American’s history what I find most interesting is their own resistance to the truths of their history and the denial that one of their greatest achievments historically was an Islamic society and the production of Islamic Scholars. This fact is rarely discussed within the classroom setting. With this on my mind while sorting through my news feeds, as I do daily, I stumbled upon a review of three books by Hazel Rowley:

  1. Middle Passages: African American Journey’s to Africa 1787-2005 (J. Campbell)
  2. American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (K. Gaines)
  3. Black Gold of the Sun: Searching for Home in Africa and Beyond (E. Eshun)

Rowley, highlights a story from “Middle Passages” that discusses a historical account of a Muslim who was unjustly captured and sold into slavery. This story was what originally caught my attention. However, the events in this story are not the only occurences of African Muslims being sold into slavery and sent to the Americas. In fact there are many accounts of Africans of Noble and upper class birth being captured and sold into slavery; eventually ending up in the Americas as a field-hand or plantation worker. For example, sources say that an estimated 5 million Africans within the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade were Muslims. Rowley gives the details of this particular story when she writes,

“In 1730 Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, a highborn Muslim man in West Africa, made a 200-mile trek to a place on the Gambia River where an English ship was anchored. He had slaves to sell, but the English captain was not prepared to pay enough, and Ayuba continued south into Mandinke territory. He exchanged his slaves for cattle and set off for home, unaware that he was being followed. He was waylaid. His captors shaved his head and beard. Back at the English ship on the Gambia, the English captain recognized him but apparently had no qualms about loading him on board as part of his human cargo. Ayuba would find himself working on a tobacco plantation in Maryland.” (H. Rowley, The Nation)

The article goes on to describe the African-American impressions of Africa over the years. Most of which I could not relate to, however in Rowley’s conclusion she did identify a point that I would like to highlight here on Wa Salaam. The issue of racism, racism is not described in terms that bypass culture and language. In fact the expression of racism is colored (no pun intended) by the culture and language which it grows from, although the underlying injustice is the same everywhere.

In America for example, the definitions of White and Black are used so often yet the terms themselves are so limited. I often wonder what defines a White person? Is it skin color or heritage? Although I have lived in the US all of my life, I am not sure what this term actually means. If you are fair skinned Egyptian are you White? I don’t think so, so clearly White means of European origin.

Conversely, if you are a fair skinned Egyptian, are you Black? These labels are weak and ambiguous yet their acceptance and use here in the US supports ideas that I have suggested previously on Wa Salaam (see here). Interestingly, Rowley concludes her article with a similar question, where she beckons those considered White to quantify this term and its associations, she insinuates that prejudice in our daily lives could be subdued as a result of this knowledge when she writes,

“What does it mean to be white? It’s time that white people asked themselves the sorts of questions with which people of African descent have wrestled for centuries. Eshun seems to be referring to that righteous complacency and sense of superiority one witnesses every day in the modern world–from the conduct of foreign policy to daily interactions between nonwhites and whites. I can’t help thinking that if we all tormented ourselves with these sorts of questions, the world might be less ignorant, less polarized, less hateful, less bellicose.” (H. Rowley, The Nation)

In conclusion, although this divisive language may be too deeply embedded in the culture of this country to dissolve, it is thought provoking and deserves some attention even if only a couple of views on this blog.

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§ 4 Responses to American Vernacular and Prejudice

  • DrM says:

    Interesting points. I think racism today has become much more sophisticated and cryptic as far social as engineering goes. Its more of a mindset that imposes its own likes and dislikes on others, this is no where more aparent then overly westernized shallow elites in third world countries who often act more “white” then some of their counterparts in “white” nations. The same has been historically true of brown sahibs in the Indian subcontinent and the anglosized ruling classes of the Arab world. This is a consequence of playing on other peoples paradigms, an indication of a cultural inferiority complex.

  • asalaamu alaikum

    If you don’t mind, I wanted to comment on a couple of statements from your post:

    However, in the case of African-American’s history what I find most interesting is their own resistance to the truths of their history and the denial that one of their greatest achievments historically was an Islamic society and the production of Islamic Scholars. This fact is rarely discussed within the classroom setting.

    I think in order to understand what you see as “resistance” is actually the result of a concerted effort to obscure the history of African-Americans that took place from the beginning of the trans-atlantic slave trade. If enslaved people were allowed to retain a connection with the nations they came from, then those nations could potentially exert a claim on them and vice versa.

    Furthermore, in order to prove that there is this denial that you mentioned, it would have to first be proved that featuring Islamic societies and producing Muslim scholars is inarguably one of their greatest achievements. The problem is, this is a matter of opinion, not fact, and there’s no way to make everyone hold the same opinions. Those who are not religious may tend to view the architectural accomplishments as the greatest achievements. Others who are Christians may find the resiliency of their faith despite changing governments to be the greatest achievements accomplished by their ancestors. So, it’s not a matter of denial. It’s simply a difference in opinion based on the values held by each individual.

    Rowley, highlights a story from “Middle Passages” that discusses a historical account of a Muslim who was unjustly captured and sold into slavery.

    I think that this is a very interesting statement and the idea within it may help to explain why African-Americans tend to hold a different view than you do about what was the greatest achievements of their ancestors. The idea that this Muslim was unjustly captured is one that I would definitely take issue with. As a slave trader, Ayuba (and many others like him) readily trafficked in “human cargo” (as you put it). If it was just for him to enslave others, then many would not see it as unjust if he, too, was made a part of this “cargo”.

    The idea that certain African societies condoned slavery, even the enslavement of their fellow Africans, may play a role in why those societies are not considered all that great to those whose ancestors were willingly sold off by those within these societies. I think that it’s to be expected that these societies that eagerly participated in the slave trade would not be all that popular to those who are still suffering from the effects of this inhumane trafficking of human beings. I think that this is the point that Rowley was making in the article and it’s one that I am inclined to agree with.

    ma’a salaama

  • Abu Sahajj says:

    This is a consequence of playing on other peoples paradigms, an indication of a cultural inferiority complex.

    Good point. I couldn’t agree more, these societal conditions were exploited most effectively during European Imperialism which eventually led to “The Scramble for Africa“, and other conquest which have resulted in the European Mandates such as (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon). I don’t want to pin so much of the social problems on European Imperialism but I cannot seem to get around it in my mind.

    wasalaam

  • Abu Sahajj says:

    wa ‘alaikum as-salaam,

    If you don’t mind, I wanted to comment on a couple of statements from your post

    By all means Sis.

    I think in order to understand what you see as “resistance” is actually the result of a concerted effort to obscure the history of African-Americans that took place from the beginning of the trans-atlantic slave trade.

    Firstly, I would like to know (for the record) who is responsible for this “concerted effort”? Secondly, why would would someone want to obscure the history of a minority group in a world super-power like the United States of America?

    If enslaved people were allowed to retain a connection with the nations they came from, then those nations could potentially exert a claim on them and vice versa.

    There were several attempts to achieve this all of which ended in failure (Liberia, Marcus Garvey, and the Moorish Science Temple, etc.).

    Furthermore, in order to prove that there is this denial that you mentioned, it would have to first be proved that featuring Islamic societies and producing Muslim scholars is inarguably one of their greatest achievements.

    What in this life is inarguable? However, just because one may find an argument does not mean that it is a worthy effort. The following DVD is a nice introduction to these historical accounts and how they relate to African-American ancestry (here). At any rate the civilization of Timbuktu and Maghrib should provide enough proof to satisfy any skeptic.

    I think that this is a very interesting statement and the idea within it may help to explain why African-Americans tend to hold a different view than you do about what was the greatest achievements of their ancestors.

    Most African-Americans will not know who to reference other than African-Americans as their ancestors… my suggestion when having these discussions is to perform mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA Tests and start from there. Because unfortunately without this, it is just a guess at best, as illustrated by Oprah Winfrey on a PBS special last year.

    So, it’s not a matter of denial. It’s simply a difference in opinion based on the values held by each individual.

    I respect your position… but I stand with mine and must disagree here.

    maa salaama

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