Sunday, November 25, 2012

We Require Perspective, II: Past, Future, and Present

Guest Blogger:
Rosechell Spencer III

On the first day of trial, Cinquẻ tells the court about his journey through the Middle Passage and then aboard La Amistad…

He recounts being suddenly captured by outside African tribesmen (important) and traded into slavery for guns.  He is given quick blessings (important) as he is counted and shuffled further below the ship’s deck.  There, Cinquẻ is shackled and forced into a small space along with hundreds of other captives.  He recalls one night with great detail.  It is storming at sea and the ship is being rolled from left to right chaotically.  Beneath the decks, Cinquẻ sees flashes of lightening and is drenched with cold water dripping through the cracked deck above.  He is, undoubtedly, surrounded by smells of sweat, urine, and defecation.  Mere feet from Cinquẻ, a woman dies in child birth.  Now the smell of death accompanies the before-mentioned scents, and a child is born into the world motherless.  The conditions below deck are horrendous, but what happens above deck isn’t any better.  The next day the slaves are released above.  The women (who are half-naked) are forced to dance with the ship’s crewmen.  The crewmen pushed close to the women and forcibly kissed and grabbed them (classy-writing).  Cinquẻ carries the dead mother and throws her body over-board (no crewman was concerned enough to remove the dead bodies below deck… too much temptation above deck).  Hours later, two captives are whipped in front of men, women, and children.  A woman commits suicide, falling over-board along with the newborn child.  She rather kill herself and take a child with her instead of enduring atrocities to come.  The slaves are re-shackled and moved below deck to be fed.  Crewmen ladle a hand-full of gruel to some captives; not nearly enough as all of them.  The crewmen have a real problem on their hands.  They do not have enough resources to ensure all of their “cargo” can make the trip and something must be done.  Mid-way through the journey, many Africans, women and men, are chained to rocks and pushed over-board.  They scream and struggle as they are drowned. This is Cinquẻ’s recount of the Middle Passage.

Once again, I encourage you to go through this historical event analytically and with perspective.  Cinquẻ is captured by “outside tribesmen.”  Africa was, and still is, a land of many people and many governments.  Cinquẻ was abducted by another people (another discussion).  He was traded for goods, namely guns.  African people were not bamboozled or misled to trade with foreigners.  Some tribes were at war with others and were looking for an advantage.  Guns were a major advantage in an environment where spears still reigned supreme…When Cinquẻ first boarded the slave ship, he was blessed by a preacher.  “Glory, Gold, and God” was a 15th century principle of imperialism and explorers believed their 3 ultimate missions of conquest were to secure fame, accumulate wealth, and spread Christianity.  Slavery was a method to maximize profit (secure wealth) and spread Christianity.  Arguably, there are also those whose claim to fame was linked to slavery (Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, an interesting pair in regards to slavery).  The take-away thoughts about the Christian blessings on the ship are: What are the origins of the Christian experience in the African-American (A.A.) community, why was Christianity exposed to A.A.s—was it Christian benevolence, obligation, or clemency, and what is the historical role of Christianity in the A.A. community—or any other religion?  If you would like to research Christianity in the A.A. community; I recommend Yvonne Chireau’s Black Magic.  Glory, Gold, and God is only one example of knowing how history (past), had an effect on the future, and is now yours and mine present (Like how I did that…it’s in the title “Past, Future, and Present”).

It is an unarguable truth that African-slaves endured horrible conditions beneath the deck of ships during the Middle Passage, but what happened above deck was more detrimental.  Above the deck, women (who are half-naked) are forced to dance with the ship’s crewmen.  The crewmen pushed close to the women and forcibly kissed and grabbed them (classy-writing).  Forgive the sarcasm, but the screen writer used an element of foreshadowing.  The scene alluded to a ship custom called “bed-warming.”  Women would be taken from below decks to crewmen quarters or the captain’s chamber.  There, they were raped.

Minority cultures have a history of being over-sexualized and women are especially susceptible to this stigma.  Many believe rap videos, misogynistic lyrics, news, magazines, and other social media are the cause of this stigma.  I do not contest any of these things, but interject that perhaps the stigma started before African people even arrived in America.  Before women slaves were even in America; they were used to fulfill sexual desires and objectified.  Their disposition as slaves was unique because they represented physical labor, sexual desire, and quality-control.  Cinquẻ remembered slaves were beaten in front of other slaves, including women.  The Willie Lynch Theory advises slave owners to beat slaves in front of their slave community, specifically women.  It is written “do not kill the slave, but put the fear of God in them.”  If fear is instilled in the women of a community; they will teach that fear to their children for generations, insuring obedience.  The theory was a method of enslaving a people through the generations.  Women were the primary target of this attack, and it was launched even before they set foot on American soil.  This method of enslavement was inflicted in the past, to control the future, and is still presently affecting the community.

Jorge Santanyana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.”  My last blog encouraged you to go through with analytical acuity and learn something about yourself.  This time, I would like to encourage you to acknowledge the past does indeed translate to the future.  It is not something to be ignored or forgotten.  The unique history of a people affects their future.  If you always wondered why something was the way it is in your community; you should look to see if there is an answer in the past.


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