Monday, December 15, 2008

Considering Douglass Pt. 2

More from Jessica DeSpain's crew.

“The most important benefit derived from reading Douglass's narrative as a non-black student is the personal connection the reader makes with the life of the slave," wrote Colin. He went on to explain:

Emotional commitment isn't achieved from the history lessons contained in a standard American History textbook. The nullifying effect of time and watered-down information creates a disconnection from the reality of slavery. Speaking from a white small-town-America point of view, I learned in school that slavery was bad, we fought a costly bloody war to stop it, good prevailed, and everything turned out ok. Having no personal connection to slavery, no genealogical lineage to it, I was doomed to view it simply as a historical period that came and went. What Douglass's narrative gave to me, is that intimate personal relationship to his life and hardships. I got to see first hand the horrors he saw, felt, and overcame. This offers a more complete view and understanding of what slavery was, and most importantly an emotional attachment to the lives that slaves were forced to lead. Douglass's book is important and beneficial for everyone to read, not just black or non-black students. But in the case of non-black students, it is extremely important to view history from different points of view because the history of African Americans is much different when told by them directly versus what we are taught in school.

And according to Jessica W., another grad student working with Jessica DeSpain:

Douglass’s Narrative gives students the unique opportunity to peer into the horrors of slavery from a first person perspective, which allows them a brief introduction of what a slave’s life could look like. However, Frederick Douglass’s life was an exception. To say his life was difficult is a drastic understatement, but compared to another slave, who lived on the plantation for the rest of his/her life, the two lives would have been very different. The danger of relying on only one source, for anything in our history, is that it is too narrow a scope to adequately expose the vast atrocities of slavery. Douglass’s story is only one of millions. His experience within slavery ended well as he was able to escape with his life and even become a celebrity of sorts. He learned how to read and developed ambition, which allowed him to rise out of oppression—the epitome of the American dream. Other slaves, who were lucky enough to escape, were forced to live in poverty and face the racism of the people around them, who desired their freedom, but not their work. If you rely on only one source, especially such a unique source, the truth can become jaded as you begin to believe that his experience was common.

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