African American Studies Week 2
Blog Prompt: For this week’s post, discuss the social, economic, and cultural consequences of transatlantic slavery for both Africa and the African diaspora in the Americas. The second week’s readings focused on the transatlantic slave trade as well as the diversity seen in Africa.
In August of 1444 Lancarote, a Portuguese captain, committed several kidnapping raids in Guinea and brought back over 200 Africans to Portugal. These people were sold in an auction, and was one of the first instances of the transatlantic slave trade. While other countries played big roles in the slave trade near the start, when the Americas were discovered they quickly took charge. Europeans created reasons that it was OK to kidnap people and enslave them by “rationalizing” it to Africans being inferior and amoral. They convinced themselves that slavery helped Africans because it saved them by exposing them to Christianity (Anderson pg. 59). New markets began arising which increased the demand for slaves, in turn intensifying the slave trade. Eventually the British developed the triangular trade process. This was a highly efficient slave trade method: Africans were bought on the African Gold Coast with rum then traded to the West Indies for sugar, which then was brought to New England to be made into rum. The slave trade was a cruel system founded on exploitation and greed.
The greed of the Europeans exploited a people who are, According to Bauer, “Cheerful, kindly and sociable: in character they are characteristically extrovert, so readily obedient and easily contented. More than most other social groups they are patiently tolerant under abuse and oppression and little inclined to struggle against difficulties” (Bauer 388). It is unfortunate that a people with a culture this kind were exploited.
At least ten million slaves survived the trip from Africa to the Americas (Anderson pg. 60). The captives were herded, chained, branded, and guarded before they were packed tightly below the main deck. Their legs, necks, or wrists were chained to each other. Because of the extremely close proximity and conditions sicknesses spread extremely quickly throughout the prisoners (Anderson pg. 60). Thousands of Africans died revolting against their kidnappers, and many might consider that a more desirable fate than what awaited them in the Americas.
Professor Stuart Anderson describes the evolution of the slave vessel and its importance in the slave trade in this video. The new ships were bigger and more able to withstand tropical waters. He also mentions how colonies tried things other than slavery to harvest sugar, such as using the local Native American population, but that was frowned upon. Somehow slavery was not frowned upon, and there were many people able and willing to kidnap Africans for this purpose.
Although Colonialism is at a different time from the slave trade I believe the two are linked by the exploitation of the African people and that it is relevant a discussion of the cost of slavery on the African people. In this article Settles describes a trade system with the Africans done by the Europeans trading manufactured goods for slaves. Even ignoring that Africa was on the losing side because of the human cost, relying on manufacturing goods stunted the development of Africa and trade favored the Europeans. When the slave trade ended Africa supplied goods necessary for the industrial revolution, and the Europeans began to establish colonies in Africa to drive down the price of these goods. Because of this the Europeans undermined the economic power in Africa and made Africa reliant on Europe. As a consequence, even today many African countries rely on manufactured goods from other parts of the world.
To look at how Africa has bounced back from this wrongdoing one of the materials for this week was a panel based discussion about diversity in Africa. One of the members on the panel told a story about how when he tells people that he is from Africa he is asked if he knows another person from Africa. This made him realize that people with a Eurocentric education do not realize the diversity in Africa and he has made it a point to educate people of its true diversity. They discussed the fact that Africa has so many different languages, even within countries. I knew that Africa was diverse culturally, but I didn’t know to what extent until now.
Another point raised by the panel was that Africa is misrepresented by news sources in the Western world. Africa is often shown as pure suffering with no modern technological advances, and according to the panel this is not the case. They bring up the point that it would be possible to find pictures of pure suffering in any country, but only Africa is portrayed this way. One member of the panel said that if a picture of many African cities was shown with no name, people would guess that is part of Europe or America. This inspired me to do research on my own just looking at pictures of African cities to get more of an idea of what modern Africa is like, and I found that he was right.
Getting to know more about the diversity of Africa has helped me look at things through a more Afrocentric point of view. This is because the Eurocentric point of view teaches us that we must feel bad for Africa and the African people because they were unlucky to be born there. Recognizing and discussing the fact that the African people are developed culturally and technologically helps to stop this superiority complex that Eurocentrism has tried to teach us.
Overall I enjoyed the discussion of diversity in Africa the most. Learning about the atrocities that were committed upon the African people by my ancestors is difficult, but it has to be done. I look forward to next week’s modules about the civil rights movement.
Anderson, Talmadge, and James B. Stewart. Introduction to African American Studies: Transdisciplinary Approaches and Implications. Baltimore, MD: Inprint Editions, 2007. Print.
Bauer, Raymond A., and Alice H. Bauer. “Day to Day Resistance to Slavery.” The Journal of Negro History 27.4 (1942): 388. Web.