Thursday, February 23, 2012

what I thought about "narrative of the life of frederick douglass"

What a remarkable man. This book is wonderful and awful, and should be required reading for every human being.

Where did we go wrong, as a species? When did people become things? At what point in history did one human being look at another human being and say, "That belongs to me. That is my property."? And why didn't everybody else tell that guy he was off the island? Why wasn't he exiled into the desert to be devoured by lions? Was there only one guy saying that people were property, and everybody thought if they ignored it it would go away? Or were there already so many people who liked the idea of cheating the law of the harvest and getting something for nothing that they all jumped on the wagon together to oppress the women, children, and people whose skin was a different color? Were we already so corrupt that it sounded like a good idea?

This disgusts me. There is an interesting example in the book of how Frederick Douglass came to a family in Baltimore who had not previously owned slaves, and the effect that slavery has on both the slave and the slaveholder; how dehumanizing it is to both parties. And to think that there is still a vibrant slave trade is so monstrously offensive I don't know how the earth doesn't split in anguish and swallow whole the people who supply and patronize such an abomination. I don't know if it is possible to atone for such willful disregard for human life.

Douglass makes an interesting observation that the more religious the slaveholder was, that is, the more active he was in the outward display of his moral superiority, the more brutal and base and cruel he was to his slaves. This was borne out in Douglass's own experiences, as well as those of his fellow-slaves. Isn't this still so often the case? The world is full of people for whom religion is merely another tool with which to oppress others.

Douglass also demonstrates how vital education is to showing a man the injustice and immorality of his enslavement--that to keep a slave docile you have to keep him ignorant. How heartbreaking, and how true.

Well, I have all kinds of thoughts about this book that I'd love to discuss with somebody. I highly recommend it.


Amy said...

How do you find the time to read all of these cool books? I just finished writing a story about a new play called "The Third Crossing" about the history if interracial relationships beginning with Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress Sally Hemings and ending with a laws prohibiting marriage between blacks and whites which were strongly enforced in some states even into the 1960s (the last of these laws was only overturned in Alabama in 2000). My mind is spinning with the whole issue!!! We should talk.

Bamamoma said...

SUCH a good book! My copy is riddled with flags of passages to re-read. If you want to read more of this kind of book let me know and I'll send you a recommended reading list. Truly amazing!!!

I think the reason I studied what I studied in school was exactly what you've demonstrated. Those who made it out of slavery (whether emancipated or because they freed themselves) were truly remarkable individuals and I feel so inspired by them. Reading their histories makes so many issues clear for me whereas looking at the current mess of things only makes me frustrated.

Ahhh, we could talk for hours!

beckster said...

Well, now you have gotten me interested in reading a book I would never have thought of reading! That takes talent! I, too, am disgusted by man's inhumanity to man, so maybe I should wait until I am in a better frame of mind to read this book. (Maybe after the election- ha!) I love the mayo reference. That is priceless.

Bamamoma said...

ok, I know you didn't ask about that recommended reading list but since when do I wait to be asked? I was passing my bookcase earlier today and the Narrative of Sojourner Truth caught my eye and I thought, "oh, Layne just might love that!" Truth was such a strong, amazing individual. She never learned to read or write so she told her story and some nice white abolitionist person wrote it down. Still, it is a great read. If you can't find it, let me know and I'll lend you mine (as long as you sign the necessary contract promising to not dog-ear or read while in a steam room).