Black History at USD Project – Emily Baucher
Throughout the education I received from a child to my senior year of high school, I never understood the depth and destruction that the white population has done and continue to do to the African American population since the day they were forced here from Africa. Through the African American History course, I have taken here at USD, I have been able to see history from the perspective of the African Americans who fought countless years to get where we are today.
History is taught from the vantage point of the white oppressor, rather than those who spent countless hours building this country. The article by Cambridge University Press states, “European explorers would begin the trade that would ultimately define a new nation and bind the two sides of the Atlantic in a trade that would destroy lives and souls in Africa, Europe, and the Americas” (Givens, 2022). African Americans were originally brought to this country merely to work, not as humans. Which is a side of the story that our history books severely lack. Events like the Middle Passage are mentioned in our books, but the horrors and dehumanization are nowhere near explained in the depth they should be.
The series “Roots” presents a vivid example of what the Middle Passage was like for African Americans during the slave trade. In the film, a young warrior named Kunta is kidnaped by a rival tribe and sold to British slave traders. Kunta was thrown onto the ship along with the other African men and shackled down at the bottom of the ship. Many of them refused to eat including Kunta, they chose death rather than the life that was coming for them once they got to America. But the British created a device to pry their mouths open, forcing them to eat and keeping them alive so they can make a profit once they make it to America. This horrible act still haunts my mind today. It is hard to believe that a human would treat another human being this way. Most people wouldn’t even treat an animal this way. It makes you wonder how to British and other slaveholders were able to commit these atrocities, and how could they live with themselves knowing what they were doing to their fellow human beings.
In addition, the documentary “Roots” shows the story from the African perspective and their saddening journey through the Middle Passage to America. Pre-slavery, West African life revolved around their traditions and their culture. Young boys would follow in their father’s footsteps and become warriors as their fathers and grandfathers did before them. Their culture is what makes them strong and brings them pride to be a part of such a rich culture. However, like just about anywhere else in the world, some are corrupt and greedy. Because of this, corrupt tribes captured other tribes and sold them as slaves to the English in exchange for guns. Upon coming to America, despite the whites’ efforts of dehumanization, the Africans were able to hold on to that sense of culture and community they held so dearly back home.
Kyle E. Brooks, an assistant professor of homiletics, worship, and the black church at Methodist Theological School in Ohio gives light to the concept of Hauntology in his talk “Ghostly Ideals.” Jacques Derrida was the one who created the concept which is, the return or persistence of elements from the past, as in the manner of a ghost (Brooks, 2023). In the context of African American history, this is the ‘not so subtle’ racist ideals that remain in our society today from the ghosts of our founders. America was built from the literal blood, sweat, and tears of African Americans but the white men in power are the ones who receive the credit for all their hard work and are the ones remembered in our history books. Throughout history, we can see this pattern repeating itself constantly.
Brooks then discusses how confronting the ‘ghost’ is to deal with politics, social injustices, and inequality. Each of these topics was created to favor the white population throughout the foundation of this country and has grown into a systemic issue that not one person alone can change. The so-called ‘ghost’ is what has haunted the black community since they arrived in America, and what continues to haunt them today, which is racism. Our textbook ‘Freedom on My Mind’ states, “The view that categorized human populations hierarchically by race and contended that races evolved unequally is today known as scientific racism and is recognized as a reflection of white supremacist thinking” (White, 730). This definition of scientific racism gives a clear explanation of how racism did not occur overnight. But rather, it gradually rooted itself in society so deeply that it remains prevalent in today’s world.
Brooks later brings up George Liele, who was the founder of the first African Baptist Church in Savannah Georgia. Liele was able to found this church despite society systematically doing everything to stop him. His tactic was to get the white audience to listen to his powerful words. He also made himself an asset to the white power, which was his way in and allowed him the success of founding the church. Liele had to mold himself to fit how the white society wanted him to look and sound to be able to create any progress for his community. A big part of the New Negro movement was getting away from actions like this. With the New Negro movement, African Americans would no longer mold into how society wanted them to act, but rather starting to mold society into getting used to them being who they want to be.
Another form of this ghost can be seen in the film “Ethnic Notions.” This documentary by Marlon Riggs shows how African Americans are portrayed in the new world of television and the radio produced by the white dominant society. The emerging entertainment industry used its white power to portray African Americans in many ways except in reality. For example, they were shown as ‘happy slaves,’ in cartoons. For people in small towns with no African American population and who had never witnessed slavery in their lives, this was their only perception of slavery. These people had no reason to question that what they were seeing on television was not accurate to real life. Additionally, the stereotypes of African Americans were reinforced by the cartoons. For instance, the African American characters had big lips, ate watermelon, and spoke in broken English. The reinforcement of these stereotypes is just one more way that the white society pushed back on any sense of progress that free African Americans had in becoming a part of society.
All in all, society has come a long way since the dark days of slavery, but we still have much progress to go. Our country cannot be a true democracy unless anyone and everyone who is a member has equal rights to the opportunities it can offer. Throughout history, African Americans have drawn the short straw when it comes to equality, yet they have never given up hope or lost sight of the fight at hand. African Americans’ pride in their culture and identities is like no other. Which is what allowed them to prosper even though their entire world was fighting against their every breath. This pride has brought us to a better and more equal world and will continue to do so as long as it stands. The fight for freedom for African Americans was a long and hard one but black pride is one of the strongest components that kept them going.
“Ethnic Notions.” California Newsreel, 1987.
“Ties That Bind: Slavery and Colonialism.” The Roots of Racism: The Politics of White Supremacy in the US and Europe, by Terri E. Givens, Bristol University Press, 2022, pp. 47–61.
White, Deborah Gray, et al. Freedom on My Mind a History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021.
YouTube, YouTube, 17 Feb. 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RTxuQBQxPQ. Accessed 3 May 2023.