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Retaining Identity in the Face of Cultural Suppression

Olaudah Equiano’s to-the-point retelling of his life in slavery seems to teach a lesson about identity in the face of adversity. Throughout his biography, Equiano seems to move quickly from story to story, never showing too much emotion or hanging onto any particular event. He recounts numerous horrors he encountered during his life in servitude, while also touching upon some positive moments. One consistent trend that I noticed throughout the piece was Equiano’s consistent naivety as he discovers new cultures. Another thing I noticed was his dry sense of emotion throughout the piece until the very end when he gains his freedom and his emotion becomes more evident.

A theme that I realized as I was reading this piece was the importance of one’s identity in the face of suppression. Equiano lived in several drastically different areas throughout his life in slavery and was culturally shaped by those experiences. Yet, despite living in so many different locations, he still identifies himself as “the African.” Numerous times more in the beginning of the piece Equiano references back to his hometown in a nostalgic fashion. Despite moving around throughout his life it seems as if he never forgot where he came from. This style of cultural resistance reminded me very much of the Black Panther Party that started in the ’60s. The mantra of the Black Panthers stressed resistance to white oppression and sought after a resurgence of African culture that had long been replaced in America. Despite being several hundred years apart, it is stories like Equiano’s that were the inspiration for movements like the Black Panthers. Stories about the cruelty of slavery and oppression fueled the very cultural resistance that these movements stressed.

I think stories like Equiano’s are incredibly important because they don’t hold back at all when describing the everyday violence that slaves encountered. It lets people see the true picture of hate and cruelty that was accepted back then. Above all however, Equiano’s biography teaches a lesson about the importance of identity despite any adversity or suppression.

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  1. Nora Apt Nora Apt

    While reading your last paragraph, I couldn’t help but think of a book I read recently, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. Powerful and honest, Thomas’s novel tells the story of the death of a young African-American teenage boy. Just as you mentioned that Equiano’s story “lets people see the true picture of hate and cruelty that was accepted back then,” Thomas’s story depicts the cruelty African-Americans face from the police force today.

  2. Emma Joaquin Emma Joaquin

    I like your point about the dry emotion throughout telling his story. I think it makes it all the more powerful for readers who can see that he was past the point of being emotional or upset about it, and he had instead accepted that was the way it all went. The acceptance of such travesty can come across more powerful than anger.

  3. Michael Paul Michael Paul

    You bring up an interesting point about identification and labeling. Although Equiano lived in many areas, I view the fact that he identifies as African as a statement. This has power in that it allows Equiano to reclaim something that can be looked down upon, even in today’s day and age. I cannot say for certain that this was the actual reason, but it has an effect on those who are aware of it.

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