Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

This is actually the first book I've read in a very long time. Written by a man who escaped freedom, apparently it did quite a bit to inspire people to stand up to tyranny. A copy of it is freely available at Gutenberg.org.

I think when I was a child, I naively believed that slavery and racism were effectively extinct in the free world. I believed that both in Canada and the United States, to mention the two I'm most closely tied to, were places that a man or woman could be of any colour or religion and get the same dignity and respect afforded to white people. As I have grown older, however, I have come to the conclusion that we are a still a long distance from such an ideal utopic land of unbiased, unracist, idealistic nation.

The days of slavery in the form of Frederick Douglass might be gone, but there still exists in the USA a form of slavery: prison. People, most often of the non-white race, commit crimes by using drugs, and are then thrown into forced labour camps where they are fed insufficient food and put into cages like animals.

Frederick Douglass narrates his life up to where he has escaped slavery. As a child, his mother was forced to separate from him. Most likely because if a man sees his mother beaten and whipped, he is more likely to want to do something about it to stop the slaver than if it is just some woman.

He is subjected to whips and chains, and denied education. However, at one point in his youth, his mistress having newly acquired him, begins to instruct him in reading. She is stopped once caught, and told that by educating him, they would lose Frederick eventually as a slave. Though she stops immediately, it is already too late. Frederick, having tasted literacy, becomes obsessed with learning how to read and write. He writes later in the book, "... to make a contented slave, it is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason." Thus, he makes a strong case that education and literacy are great enemies of slavery. Could it be for this reason that there is such an effort to prevent people from having too much knowledge?

For instance, in Star Trek, Gary Mitchell gets Godlike intelligence and power. For these reasons, he becomes insane and tries to basically kill everyone who become as ants and entirely inferior to him, and yet offer a threat. There seems to be this idea that intelligence, education, and knowledge, at a certain extreme, is of grave threat to humankind.

Another thing that Douglass points out that I have noticed is the relationship between the religion of the south and those people's insistence that blacks are inferior (and descendants of Cain), Jews killed Jesus. He writes, "...the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, - a justifier of the most appalling barbarity..." He appends at the end of the Southern Christian followers, "They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen. They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at their own doors."

While we have come a long way since the days of Frederick Douglass, we still have miles to go before we may rest. The white men of the north thought it was worth dying for to liberate black slaves. So, maybe not all whites can be painted with the same brush. But, the fight is still far from over while the cause remains just as important.