The literary piece to be explored in this article is Phyllis Wheatley’s poetry “On Being Carried from Africa to America.” The project will be linked to critical race theory. Phyllis Wheatley was the first African-American female in the United States to publish a poetry book. She was able to escape being shipped as a slave from Africa to America. In the late 1700s, Phyllis was adopted by the Wheatley family, where she learned to read Greek and Latin (Richmond 65). In America, everything was wrong for Phyllis because she thought that she was in a mistaken country, different race and unique gender for her to do literary work. No one in America believed that a slave could write any literary work, but Phyllis amazed everyone where she published her first book of poems in 1773 (Richmond 65). Most of Phyllis’s poems address Christianity but the poem” On Being Brought from Africa to America” is a short verse which is focused on slavery in the United States (Shields 34). Critical race theory provides a significant assessment of race and racism from a lawful point of view. This piece of work will provide an analysis of instances in which Phyllis Wheatley has addressed slavery and racism in her poem using the critical race approach.
Some scholars have criticized Phyllis Wheatley for failing to addressed slavery and racism in her literary work. Most of her work addresses Christianity and avoids talking about slavery or racism due to different reasons such as her gender (Richmond 66). The development of critical race theory spread to various disciplines, and many authors including Phyllis were able to address the issue of slavery and discrimination in the United States of America. Slavery was a key issue in early American literary work since it affected many people in the country. The great African-American slavery trade led to high enslavement in the nation where inhabitants were kidnapped from Africa to America for labor without pay (Richmond 78). Most authors of literary work who existed in 17s were white people who did nothing on slavery and racism given that those issues were not affecting them directly (Richmond 69). Even the African-America authors such as Phyllis Wheatley were afraid of talking about the two main issues which were affecting the black people because oppression at this period was regarded as lawful by the administration.
The critical race theory identifies that racism is engrained in the system and fabric of the United States o society. Racism is so dominant in the US due to the white supremacy and privilege that leads to the marginalization of people of color (Delgado and Stefancic 78). Any law of a country is defined to be colorblind and neutral to all people, but this does not apply to the interaction of individuals with varying colors of the skin. The critical race theory, therefore, challenges the legal truth behind the definition of law through an examination of meritocracy and liberalism as a vehicle for power, self-interest, and privilege (Delgado and Stefancic 83). In her poem, Phyllis Wheatley feels that she is in the wrong country, has mistaken career and her gender is strange (Richmond 65). She states that “some view our sable race with the scornful eye” implying that in America, the black people were regarded as inferior. The black citizens were described as less incapable people, and they would not be given a chance to develop their lives. They were submitted to slavery where they would work in white lands and homes without pay. Hence the black were the slaves while the whites were the masters meaning that different races were regarded to have varying capabilities. The whites did not respect black people because Phyllis indicates that the rulers viewed African-Americans with a scornful eye (Richmond 65).
From Phyllis poem, the issue of racism extends to Christianity where she regards the Africans as pagans. She states, “Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land” (Shields 34). The statement I meant to describe white-American who brought her from Africa through the slave trade. The African race was regarded to be very inferior to the extent that the black people were known not to believe in any religion. The white who lived in America were the only people who had beliefs about religion, God, and a Savior (Shields 34). Phyllis was very lucky to have arrived in America at tender age of 7 years hence she survived the slavery. The owner of the ship she was transported in from Africa to America named her Phyllis which was the name of the vessel. The author was adopted by Wheatley family, and there she got her second name. The series of events made Phyllis appreciate religion so much hence she dedicated most of her live from the age of 14 years writing religious poems (Shields 34). She started believing in religion just like the white people. The author was fighting racism in America through literary work such as poems by writing literature which criticized discrimination. Phyllis learned several languages such as Greek and Latin to enable her address the literary work to all races (Shields 34).
Further, the critical race theory describes the white as a privileged group of people since they have a myriad of social benefits, advantages, and courtesies which come as a result of being a member of this dominant race in the US. In public facilities today, the whites are offered all their rights fully, and there are normally the first people to get services mainly because of the race (Raengo 63). On the other hand, African-American are discriminated wherever they go, in public places, schools, hospitals among other places simply because the color of their skin is regarded as inferior. The good careers in the past were only meant for the white people while the black individuals would work as assistants. Such kind of discrimination in the work place is a clear indication of the presence of slavery and racism. Phyllis in her poem argued that “the color of the white people is a diabolic die” implying that the whites are superior to the blacks (Richmond 65).
Various sections make up critical race theory a direct approach to the multidimensionality of discriminations as well as identifying that there are other factors apart from the race which accounts for disempowerment. The approach recognizes race, class, gender, sexual orientation and nationality as the overall factors which lead social discrimination (Delgado and Stefancic 78). In Phyllis’s poem, all factors considered by critical race theory are evident. The issue of race comes out very clearly when the author states that “Their color is a diabolic die” implying that the color of African people is inferior while that of the whites is superior (Richmond 65). The gender factor is portrayed in the overall early American literary work given that Phyllis was the first African American woman to publish a book consisting of poems. As the first black female artist, Phyllis avoided to address slavery and racism but kept on assessing Christianity in her literary work (Raengo 123). The author did not have the courage to address such immorality in the United States due to her gender. Further, the issue of nationality is addressed in the poem. The author says that she was glad to be transported from Africa where all people were pagan to America where she appreciated the presence of religion, God, and a Savior (Richmond 65).
Conclusively, the assumptions and values addressed by the critical race theory can be used in the critique of “On being brought from Africa to America” poem by Phyllis Wheatley. The theory of critical race requires authors of literary work to address the issues of racism, sex, nationality, and sexual orientation so as to assist in combating oppressions in the society. Phyllis was able to address all the four issues in her poem though she concentrated more on Christianity. The black people have been regarded as inferior, and non-believers of religion but the white are described as superior in all matters. Phyllis was brought from slavery where she did not believe in any religion to America and converted to Christianity. The author learned several languages to be able to write literary work which could reach various races. The main theme of her work was Christianity and criticism of racism in the US. The writer of the poem can then be said to have contributed in some way in combating oppression in the United States as required by the critical race theory.
Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical race theory: the cutting edge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013. Print.
Raengo, Alessandra. Critical race theory and Bamboozled. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Print.
Richmond, M A. Phillis Wheatley: Poet. New York,: Chelsea House, an imprint of Infobase Learning, 2014. Print.
Shields, John C. Phillis Wheatley, and the Romantics. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2012. Print.