The Struggle Against Racism and Slavery

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Racism remains a global phenomenon that has been debated and written about throughout history, and the fight to end it continues, despite the contributions of pioneer abolitionists-such as Fredrick Douglas. The war against bigotry does not seem to be ending, and it seems to be intensifying with the passage of time. Some individuals have been able to combat bigotry on both an individual and community basis and win, but the fight continues to this day. History remembers individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr who condemned racism in the USA and Nelson Mandela of South Africa who fought against Apartheid, and Fredrick Douglas who wrote and published three books about his life as a slave and as a free man in an attempt to bring to light the adverse effects of racism on its victims.‘The transition from a racial dictatorship to a racial democracy has been a slow, painful and contentious one; it remains far from reached’ (Omi and Winant 66).

Fredrick, in his second autobiography, ‘My Bondage and My Freedom’ vividly explains what happened to him and his fellow slaves in the hands of racism and gives details of the same. He does not mince his words and openly condemns the rejection he faces even in the Anti-Slavery Society headed by his friend Garrison who felt Fredrick is too aggressive in his pursuit to end slavery and racism. Defining racism becomes a difficult task. “The designation of racial categories and the determination of racial identity is no simple task. For centuries this question has precipitated intense debates and conflicts…’ (Omi and Winant 54). This is proved by how in his autobiography, Fredrick is treated right by his masters wife, Mrs Auld who even teaches him how to read and write and has compassion for him until Mr commands that she stops educating young Fredrick. Understanding the concept of racism and its effects is broad and varies from one individual to another depending on where society and history places them. To some, racism is a representation of the human nature. ‘…we should think of race as an element of social structure rather than an irregularity within it…’ (Omi and Winant 55). This can be further understood by how Mrs Auld is torn between doing what she considers to be right and what society is imposing on her through her husband.

Growing up in the plantations far away from home gets Fredrick to think of what really takes to be a black person in the midst of a totally different race and the urge to know the difference overwhelms him that he secretly acquires formal education from his playmates by offering them’… a single piece of biscuit, any of his hungry little comrades would give him a lesson more valuable to him than bread’ (Douglass 3) and here, he begins to know his identity, position and place that society has put him.Fredrick gets to learn of the effect of slavery not only his life, but also in how it crushed the humanity in people like Mrs Auld.He goes against all odds and rises to become an eloquent speaker and prolific writer. ‘every social group coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political field. (Gramsci 5). Fredrick rises to the occasion to give his race an identity and awareness of who they really are in society.

The rise of Fredrick Douglas was as a result of the oppression he and other black Americans faced in the hands of their white masters. ‘As long as the black man is among his own, he will have no occasion, except in minor internal conflicts, to experience his being through others.’ (Fanon 2). This explains the reasons why Fredrick Douglass had to rise to become the voice of the oppressed. Without the oppression that Fredrick experienced, there would have been nothing that could have prompted him to seek to know more about reading and writing. Blacks had always been considered an inferior specie that had nothing to do with the formal education that the whites were entitled to.
As a fighter who went to the extreme of physically fighting his master, the black slave breaker, Fredrick shows how there was need for resilience and strength in order get the freedom they so desired for. The resilience was however needed physically, emotionally and intellectually. The blacks would have won against their oppressorshad it been physical, but they needed more than just that. They needed emotional and intellectual enlightment in order to win their freedom back. The blacks however thought the blacks to be superior to them, to the point of thinking they were men sent from the heavens. ‘Many men and women came, each with something. They threw themselves on the sand and raised their hands to the sky, shouting for us to come ashore, while giving thanks to God.’ (Columbus 79). The blacks worshipped the whites, and thought them as the unbeatable version of humans. The mentality they had made it difficult for them to break forth and reach for their freedom. Fredrick Douglas was however able to gain his freedom by the time he was twenty years of age. At that time, he was very eloquent and clever that many people doubted whether he had been once a slave. It is the resilience in him that gives him the courage to break away from Garrison in order to form a purely blacks group in the call to bring slavery to an end, such a rare kind of courage.

The moral authority of the ruling powers have also failed in dispelling the racial menace that is widely rooted amongst its people. This is seen in the way rules have been set to give clear distinctions between the whites and the blacks. Many people have to struggle to accept that they belong to either race. In the controversial Phipps case on whether she was black or white…’Phipps’ problematic racial identity and her efforts to resolve it through state action, is in many ways a parable of America’s unresolved racial dilemmas.’ (Omi and Winant 53). The state has set standards to determine who is either black or white and this is just a mere practice of racism in disguise since being black or white does not change anything in the state affairs. The state thus tags superiority to the whites and inferiority to the blacks unknowingly and encourages the practice. Fredrick Douglas got to be employed by Garrison simply because Garrison saw the potential and his ability to move masses and draw masses. Intellectual ability was a rare occurrence among the blacks and for Garrison, Fredrick’s ability would be used to his advantage. ‘ the mode of being of new the intellectuals can no longer consist in eloquence which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passion, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser ‘permanent persuader’ and not just a simple orator…(Gramsci 10). This is the type of intellectual that Fredrick was. He was a steady fellow who had a first-hand experience about what the lives of the slaves entailed. He was the perfect permanent persuader, with facts as he vividly described the unjust nature of slavery and racism and fought so hard to bring it to an end. Fredrick was an organiser who managed to escape the brutality of his masters and became a master of his own life. His circumstances prompted him to become one abolitionist who did not relent in his pursuits.

It is remarkable that Garrison, a white man is involved in the abolition movement, in as much as he does this with moderation, unlike Fredrick who is more of an extremist I the war against slavery. The contributions of Garrison translates to the fact that the cry of the blacks had been heard by a section of the whites. ‘…with loving emphasis and deeper detail, that men may listen to the striving in the souls of black folk.’ (Dubois 12). There was convincing evidence and details that must have prompted Garrison, a white to be found in the battle meant for the blacks. He is among the many who listened to the cries of the blacks. He is a hero to many by employing Fredrick to work in his Anti-Slavery Society as a public speaker. There is however, a small bit of racism still remaining in Garrison’s heart and this is seen in how he differs with the overly-aggressive Fredrick, a feud which makes them to eventually break off. This is a good example of the fact that the journey to the end of racial segregation and oppression is yet to end even in the 21st century. The character of Garrison is an indication that racial segregation is not an entirely white people affair. There is a section of the white community who still believe in the equality of all races. The moderation exhibited by Garrison is a marker that the blacks are still at a risk of being looked down upon any day anytime even in this current generation. The fact that even after three centuries since the fight against slavery and racism began, the journey has not ended is a clear indication of the deep effects the practices have caused in the minds of human beings. The white people are still entitled to the feeling of superiority while the blacks have it in their mid that they are inferior regardless of the changes in the world today. It is therefore not news to hear today that someone has been racially segregated in the US. Civilization has not done away with racism although slavery is no longer an issue today. The blacks are however trapped and enslaved, what is termed as mental shackles by not fighting the racial stereotype and believing that they are equally human just like their white counterparts.

Fredrick Douglass autobiography ‘My Bondage , My Freedom’ helps a contemporary reader of the current world to understand the happenings during the time the author lived and how the events of then have not been totally erased from the minds of people who still carry such kind of injustices with them. It explains the savagery and inhumane nature of slavery and racism that any rational man today would want to completely distance themselves from such acts. There is a touch maturity and tenacity in the way the author engraves hi thoughts, experiences and lessons, an indication of the seriousness of the matter and the need to fight it to its natural completion. The journey of hope is still on for every reader of this piece of work, a people who believe in humanity, equality and the need to respect fellow human beings regardless of their race or skin colour.

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