The Nation’s Contradictions
Do the founders of our nation know how confused they must have seemed to the outside world? Historically we are taught that one of the major reasons for the development of the colonies in North America was the promise of freedom to practice religion in your own way. As we will see in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, “The 1805 Oration of Red Jacket,” by Red Jacket, and “A Short Narrative of My Life,” by Samson Occom, the European groups that colonized our nation were unwilling to afford that freedom, or any other freedom, to people of color. These three authors use their writing to appeal for a national reform of how we view people of color, because although the nation and its’ citizens profess to believe that God entitles all men to certain rights, they actually oppress the people of color by continually feeding into the general misconceptions about them. The Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 by the Representatives of the United States of America, clearly states “all men are created equal” (Jefferson 481). Unfortunately, we see immediate proof of the hypocrisy of our nation in the Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, where he uses the word “inhabitants” instead of the word “people” in the phrases “enslaving the inhabitants of Africa” (Jefferson 480), and “bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers” (Jefferson 482). This wording helps showcase the rhetoric of the time period by enforcing the first misconception of the white people, that Africans and Native Americans are somehow less human because of their skin color. Equiano illustrates the error of the theory about skin color and it’s relation to humanity, when he writes about the way a person’s coloring can become darker in different climates. He uses as an example an account from a book that he read, about the Spanish who have settled in the southern parts of America. It seems that if the Spanish have been there for a while, they “are become as dark colored as our native Indians of Virginia” (Equiano 535). Equiano then exposes the ridiculousness of the skin color rationale to his readers when he says, “Surely the minds of the Spaniards did not change with their complexions” (Equiano 535)! This is a direct appeal for logical European Americans to think about what is in the mind of an African, as opposed to what their skin color is. Red Jacket’s appeal for equality that is not based on the color of a person’s skin is more subtle. His repeated use of the word “BROTHER” in his speech is done to remind the whites that if they believe the Bible that they are preaching, then we are all related or descended from the same maker. His belief that we are all connected to each other is made evident when he states, “BROTHER: The Great Spirit has made us all, but HE has made a great difference between his white and red children… The Great Spirit does right. He knows what is best for his children” (Red Jacket 54). Again appealing directly to the missionaries and to people who would consider themselves Christian and meant to do God’s will. Appealing to his audience’s sense of humanity, Occom he tells the story of the Poor Indian Boy, and how he is routinely beaten by his master’s son just because of the color of his skin, “other Times he Beats me, because he is of a mind to beat me; but says he believes he Beats me for the most of the Time ‘because I am a Indian’” (Occom 526). As we discussed in class, people of color were often beaten to keep them weak so that they couldn’t run away or revolt against their masters. Another set of misconceptions perpetrated by our nation, is that African and Native Americans are ignorant and uncivilized. This set of beliefs would benefit the whites because people tend to believe that the ignorant have to be taken care of like children, and the uncivilized must be contained or controlled so that they do not harm...
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