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Culture & Resistance Posts

Gender Inequality Issues & Their Impact on Uncle Tom’s Cabin

An interesting anecdote from “‘Oh, what a slanderous book,’: Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Antebellum South” that is closely connected with our discussion involving intersectionality in class on Thursday was made by reviewer John R. Thompson. Thompson critiqued Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel beyond just its usual controversial implications about slavery in the south at the time. Thompson had additional critiques for Stowe herself. Specifically, he did not approve of her writing the novel as a woman. Hagood explains Thompson’s reaction to the novel saying “Stowe had violated the rules of nineteenth-century gender decorum and the American patriarchal order that pervaded both North and South … Thompson found her willingness to engage publicly in the slavery debate an affront, one that might ‘place woman on a footing of political equality with man.’” This critique exemplifies how the issue of women’s rights and the abolitionist movement were so tightly connected beyond the typical assumption. 

As a result of the extreme gender inequality at the time that Stowe released Uncle Tom’s Cabin, some critics discredited her writing due to her gender. Even those that commended Stowe for her work treated her differently than they would a male author. When Abraham Lincoln met her he referred to her as “the little woman,” who helped spark the civil war. Although a positive comment, these words still implied that it was extra surprising that the novel was successful given she was a woman. Although supporting the abolishment of slavery as a woman was important, in some ways it hurt the cause as many critics also discredited women’s opinions and women’s rights.

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The Timeless Influence of Art

When it was first published in 1852, Uncle Tom’s Cabin reached an array of audiences differently quite differently. Although only 1.5% of the non-slave population read the book, its influence was much further reaching. Reactions varied considerably, ranging from ridiculing the book for its inaccurate depiction of slavery to praising it for its message that was quite unpopular for the time. Especially considering that most slaves were illiterate, it took decades before Uncle Tom’s Cabin moved from its place in low or pop culture to the high culture it is treated as in the classroom now. 

Part of the reason the book might not have been as accepted during the time it was written is that it resonated positively with a small subset of the audience. As Hagood discusses, Stowe would have been able to reach a larger audience if she sympathized more with the plight of women. While this would have reached a wider audience and potentially received a more positive appraisal in the mid 19th century, it would have taken away from the purpose of Stowe’s writing. Humans construct their reality through storytelling, and although Stowe’s depiction of slavery illustrated “colors that make up the picture but not the world of ours,” it contributed to its overall reception, especially in the long-term. Stowe clearly did not want to accurately depict slavery because people already knew what it was like – they lived through it at the time. By exaggerating and focusing on the worst aspects, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was able to resonate more deeply with its readers, whether positively or negatively. 

The book struck the emotions of the nation. Some were outraged and some were moved to improve the world, but overall, there was a strong set of reactions, which Stowe was probably looking for. Any publicity is good publicity and Uncle Tom’s Cabin started a conversation that never ended and perhaps even influenced Abraham Lincoln’s movement towards abolition. Because of Stowe, I am even writing about her work today, nearly 150 years later. In my mind, that is a success and proves that the most influential works don’t have to be the most accurate. Digging into the purpose of a creation may take time to get the point across, but if you go deep enough, the answer lies within.

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The Influence of Popular Culture

The article, “Leadership, Culture, and Social Change,” defines the terms “culture,” “popular,” and “popular culture” respectively. These explanations hold significance as the article uses this terminology to explain the significance of the phrase “popular culture” with respect to societal conflicts and social change. Rather than simply categorizing popular culture as “vulgar entertainment,” the article encourages individuals to recognize its value to society as a whole. Popular culture has the ability to prompt introspection. Moreover, popular culture calls attention to present societal and political issues. The article describes the positive correlation between a work of popular culture’s audience size and influence: the larger the audience, the larger the possible impact. Using Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an example, the article reiterates the negative consequences of writing off popular culture as entertainment; Uncle Tom’s Cabin illustrates the atrocities of slavery and serves as a call to action. The article concludes by revealing “a profound disconnect between what influences us the most and what we identify as influential” (Bezio, 2018).

The quotation above directly relates to a discussion I had in my Theories and Models class last Thursday. Dr. Goethals described a social science experiment that he conducted regarding attitude change and memory. The study found that individuals’ perspectives on a particular social justice issue were altered by their peers. As a result, individuals with changed standpoints were unable to correctly recall their previous opinion on the matter. These findings parallel the aforementioned disconnect as individuals in the study were unable to recognize the influence that their peers had on their perspective. This evident disconnect reveals that individuals in our society must begin to recognize what impacts us the most; specifically, starting to recognize popular culture and our peers as influencing agents.

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Similarities in Pre and Post Slavery Societies

Olaudah Equiano’s life was filled with a great deal of tragedy and oppression. Equiano looks fondly upon his homeland and displays a deep connection to his nation and his people. Having ripped from his family at the age of 11 to be sold as a slave, Equiano has many stories about the horrors he faced under his owners and how his race determined his path in life. It is quite remarkable how Equiano is able to describe, in detail, the most traumatic events of his life. Equiano’s life in slavery differed from his time in various African nations to when he finally was taken overseas. Equiano had immediate fear for the white men who he had never encountered before. They were more cruel and terrifying than the previous people he had met on his journey as a slave. While Equiano’s life in slavery was filled with unimaginable maltreatment, he also did not see much hope for the life of a free black man.

Equiano’s story culminated in him buying his own freedom. Through all of the pain and suffering he entailed, he never gave up because he knew there was a better life out there that he deserved to live. Equiano was sold to many different people in many different places, but he never forgot his roots and his self worth and knew that one day, the life of a slave would not be his anymore. He was able to appreciate those who were kind to him, even though there were so many who had not been kind. Equiano knew not to take this kindness for granted, as he was not sure if someone would ever be kind to him again. Equiano did not let the opinions of others change how he felt about himself and he always had a clear self identity that allowed him to stay strong throughout his many trades.

While reading Equiano’s story, one has to also remember the slaves whose lives did not end in freedom. Many lives have been forgotten, as their stories were deemed not important enough to tell. Equiano makes sure to recognize that he was one of the lucky ones and that there were not many lucky ones. I would imagine that Equiano would be suprised by the lack of progress made today regarding the treatment of minorities. While slavery is illegal, the same mentality behind the creation of slavery still exists today and is still suppressing black voices, in particular black women. Intersectionality reveals the reality of black women who are constantly overlooked as they fall into two minority categories. As a society, it is our duty to be aware of and change these views because one group of people should not have to fight the constant oppression from others on their own.

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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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Intersectionality and Blackness in a Post-Slavery Society (9/4; Post #1)

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is a powerful memoir documenting the life of a slave in the mid-eighteenth century. Olaudah Equiano tells the story of his abuses–from his kidnapping and separation from his sister, through the loss of his close friend and abuses of each master. His story is painful to read, even with his almost jovial writing style. The abuses he faces are harrowing, and yet delivered dispassionately as if his experiences were not traumatic and disturbing in the slightest. The way he found the bright side of each situation he was in–feeling close with and unwilling to leave the captain who literally beat him to strip him of his African name and identity, to the point of feeling betrayed when sold; being grateful for the occasional “kindness” from his masters and abusers, who were participating in a system to oppress Olaudah to begin with–challenged my emotions constantly. It leaves me to wonder whether he actually believes that small acts of kindness were all that he was entitled to from his white oppressors as an African man.

Recognizing the context of the time period this work was created within, I can only guess at Olaudah’s intentions without further research into the matter. But it’s not difficult to ascertain that this book was written with the purpose of humanizing black people to an audience of white people. Olaudah’s story had to be told within a framework of white saviorship in order to remain palatable to white readers. Kindness and recognition of slaves as somewhere on the spectrum of “human” was all that was required to not be the villain of Olaudah’s story, a small step given that the enslavement and disenfranchisement of his people and all who still share any semblance of his skin color is entirely due to the direct action and complicity of white people then and today. His story could not be too real, because then it would have been rejected before it could impact the masses. He was unable to be too angry, or else he would be written off as another hyperaggressive (“savage”) black man. And in this way, Olaudah was partially invisible.

But as we learned from our reading on intersectionality, black men were not the only ones made invisible. The traumas experienced by Olaudah were most frequently shared, as it is the stories of black men that were recognized by white people throughout history in comparison to black women. We fail to hear the personal accounts of black women, who were not only objectified as laborers, but also as tools for sexual gratification. And recognition of that reality is what makes accounts like this even harder to read and to attempt to bring to life within our imagination. Those stories are likely too dark for people now (particularly white people) to fully comprehend.

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Response #1 for Sept. 5

Olaudah Equiano’s retelling of his life’s events is an interest account, not just because of the nature of its contents, but because of the way in which it is written. As I was reading, I was surprised by how unemotional his writing felt. Of course, there were moments when he described to us his feelings of fear and sorrow and other negative emotions, but overall, for an autobiography, it felt very polished and almost manufactured. As a reader of this piece in 2019, I found myself feeling disconcerted at how calmly Equiano comes across, and how easily he gives praise away to the people who enslaved him. In today’s society, I think it’s very commonplace for people to worry over themselves and their situation and then possibly tack on “well, it could be worse,” but in the case of Equiano, who saw horrible things very frequently, he definitely focuses on that “it could be worse” mentality. He accepts his position in life because he knows first hand that his life could be far worse off. Towards the end of his writing, he does talk about his excitement at finally being free, and to me it almost feels like it’s a freedom from that “it could be worse” mentality. After receiving his freedom, he can safely say, “it was worse.”

The part of Murray’s work which really spoke to me was, “Are we deficient in reason? We can only reason from what know, and if an opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence.” This speaks to me, because I think it’s so relevant today. Not specifically about a disparity between men and women, but because of the way we talk about “equality” in America. People like to think that everyone in America is equal because they can, theoretically, do whatever they want, just like everyone else and that, therefore, makes them equal. However, in our country there is a lack of equal opportunity, which does not allow people to behave in equal ways with others. People say that if poor people want to have money and food and shelter, they should get a job and work harder. But those same people may have been born into a neighborhood which has a poor education system. So they were unable to go to college and receive the education necessary for a better paying job. I just think that Murray really touches on something very key. People do not control their circumstances. Her point is that it’s not women’s fault that they were born women and therefore weren’t educated in the same way their male peers were. Their lack of knowledge or understanding does not come inherently, it’s a lack of access to the resources used to acquire those skills. I believe we have similar issues today.

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Identity and It’s Context in Cultural Resistance

Upon reading excerpts from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, I couldn’t help but think about how the identity of the author, and how the author identifies themselves, affects the context of whatever work of culture that they bring into the world. Equiano didn’t define himself as African American nor Anglo American, despite spending significant parts of his life in both England and what would be the United States. Instead, he identified himself simply as “the African,” bringing about a new meaning to his narrative and affecting the ways in which it is interpreted today.

In the short biography on Equiano before the chapters, the author brought up The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, another harrowing autobiography written by a freed slave, exposing the atrocities that were bring committed against African Americans as a result of slavery. Last semester, I read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass for my statesmanship class in Jepson. As I was reading the chapters from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, I immediately noticed similarities in the horrors that both men endured as slaves, making both works truly eye opening and sobering. Why is it then, that The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is still one of the most renowned works of American literature, and Frederick Douglass himself has been immortalized into one of the most important figures in American history? Timing is important to consider here, as Equiano’s autobiography was published much earlier than Douglass’ narrative. Douglass’ campaign for abolition in conjunction with the Civil War made his message much more difficult to ignore.

I also think that it is important to consider identity, though. Douglass undoubtedly an American statesman, and the rhetoric that he used in his autobiography and his speeches was important in his lifelong fight against the institution of slavery. Equiano, however, just identified himself as “the African,” which I think significantly alters the way in which his work is read and understood in today’s context. Identity is an incredibly important factor when talking about a work of cultural resistance.

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Richard II- Modern Correlations and Historical Political Cycles

Isaac butler’s article titled, “Did Richard II Provoke an Elizabeth Rebellion,” discusses the possibility of its’ use as propaganda as the ruling monarch at the time, Elizabeth wasn’t performing well and many of the people thought her illegitimate and wrong for the throne. The play Richard II depicted Richard with close similarities to Elizabeth such as their common over-priced/ failed wars in Ireland as well as their lack of legitimacy, and effeminate characteristics. There are questions of the correlation between Richard II and the Earl of Essex’s rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. It has been thoroughly researched and hypothesized that the Earl of Essex’s men watched Richard II the day before overthrowing Elizabeth as a sort of justification enhancement of their planned usurping. Solidifying the Earl of Essex’s reasons to fight, Richard II was the perfect antidotal play in explaining why Elizabeth’s power wasn’t legitimate and the Earl’s would be.

The play follows the downfall of Richard II as Henry IV rebelled through the years, building allies and creating legitimacy. The play seems to signify a political historical cycle in which the people of England were supposed to relate to their existing situation and do something about. As Henry IV was successful in his usurpation, the people of England would assumingely gain the same confidence the Earl and his men had by watching Richard II. They would believe what they were doing was right and with the knowledge that it is possible.  

The historical cycles which Shakespeare alludes to raises tons of questions. Was Henry good or bad? Did Richard deserve to be usurped and if he did was Henry acquiring the crown in a legitimate way? In a similar fashion, Shakespeare’s political commentary can be applied throughout time as the political cycles continue. As the play ‘Richard II’ was considered pop culture, it was a way to relay a message to every common person. As common folk didn’t read or write, plays were the ultimate way of spreading propaganda. Communicating such feelings to the common people is crucial in order to assemble some kind of political movement. 

Today, with Trump as our president, America is in an extremely two sided political world. Is his power legitimate? There are solid grounds for both yes and no but is either side right?  Similarly to Richard II, the common folk are made aware of the ‘behind the scenes’ in the political world which very many long term processes and strategies have to be applied in order to obtain ultimate ‘legitimate’ power. Resemblances of current president Trump to such leaders as Hitler are scary, especially as we find that political history is cyclical. What is even scarier is the fact that once any leader, especially monarchs or presidents are very hard to impeach because of their tentacles of influence, whether legitimate or illegitimate. So how do we discuss legitimacy seems to be the question. In a world of media, there is not much left out of the public eye. So how far can certain groups go, holding convictions of legitimacy with so many examples of illegitimate acts. It seems that with political historical evidence that this might not matter as the current ruling leader usually has influence reaching to every political realm preventing any justified rebellion.

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The Complex Relationship Between Money and Leadership

Isaac Butler’s “Did Richard II Provoke an Elizabethan Rebellion?” examines the influence of Shakespeare’s Richard II on the second Earl of Essex and his men. The day before the Essex’s rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, some of the Essex’s men organized and paid for a performance of a play. Most likely, the play was Shakespeare’s Richard II which recounts the “usurpation and murder of an unpopular ruler” (Butler, 2018). In addition to a fee for service, Essex’s men provided the actors with additional compensation. Despite the fact that Butler postulates this extra money accounts for the play’s unpopularity, this act demonstrates the men’s support of the play’s central message. Furthermore, the gratuity given to the actors highlights the relationship between money and leadership. Money influences individuals, and leaders can use this to their advantage. Although the men’s decision to commission the play was not corrupt, Richard II arguably contains ideas that fueled their rebellion against Queen Elizabeth. In this scenario, monetary reward served as a tool of affirmation.

This discussion parallels the controversy surrounding donations to political campaigns by CEOs’ of corporate America. Specifically, a CEO’s financial support to a political candidate and subsequently their platform. Most recently, the chairman of the parent company that owns both Equinox and SoulCycle, Stephen Ross, hosted a fundraiser for President Trump. Subsequently, both companies received tremendous backlash from their consumers who interpreted Ross’ act as affirmation of these companies of President Trump’s politics. This recent situation suggests that the relationship between leadership and money remains complex.

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