American Vernacular and Prejudice
August 28, 2006 § 4 Comments
Most 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:
- Middle Passages: African American Journey’s to Africa 1787-2005 (J. Campbell)
- American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era (K. Gaines)
- 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.