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Literacy enabled Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley to make known themselves with the percepts of Christianity, leading them to their religious awakening and conversions to Christianity. Equiano resolves to be “a first rate Christian” and his conversion to Christianity exemplifies the capacity of all Africans to adopt Christianity. One of Wheatley’s poems on providence and salvation: specifically, the poet’s conversion to Christianity as a consequence of her surviving the infamous middle passage from Africa to America. These two writers have similarities on using their Christian conversion and Christian beliefs to argue against slavery.
As a Christian convert, Equiano addressed his audience squarely and on equal terms before God who does not distinguish or oppress people based on physical features such as skin color or country of origin. Didacticism pervades his observation that “the complexion of the same person vary indifferent climates, it is hoped may tend to remove the prejudice that some conceive against the native of Africa on account of their skin color” (Equiano, p.
He proffered a reasoned argument which contrasts his own perception of a loving God with those of his white Christian contemporaries, and he pressed hard queries up on readers to force them to confront real issues of man’s inhumanity to man: Are there not enough to which the apparent inferiority of an African maybe ascribed, without limiting the goodness of God, and supposing he forbore to stamp understanding on what is certainly his own image, because “carved in ebony.” Might it not naturally be ascribed to their situation? When they come among Europeans, they are ignorant of their language, religion, manners, and customs.
Are any pains taken to teach them these? Are they treated as men? Does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all its fire and every noble sentiment? (Equiano, p.124). These pointed remarks posit Equiano’s essential claim against his readers’ western spiritual and cultural mores. His hard questions were designed to force them to do critical self examination and to evaluate their actions against their proposed Christian values. How could they possibly engage in and permit the vile treatment of African slave? It was inconceivable to him that such duplicity could exist within self proclaimed Christians.
The hypocrisy inherent in this was clear to Equiano and he wanted his readers to see their hypocrisy for themselves. He denounced their participation in slavery, and chastised them for their complacency, but he also empathetically recognized their ignorance due to their lack of information. He educated them, for example by clarifying for them why Africans appear uncivilized and pagan by western standards. He then emphasized his point by comparing them with a mirror image of his white readers’ ancestors: “what advantage do a refined people posses over those who are rude and uncivilized? Let the polished and haughty European recollect that his ancestors were once, like the Africans, uncivilized, and even barbarous. Did nature make the inferior to their sons? And should they too have been made slaves? Every rational mind answers, No” (Equiano, p.124). this was not only effective rhetorically; it was a brilliant norming strategy that leveled the plain between Equiano as a black African, and his readers as white Europeans. It also suggested his strongly held belief that he had a more authentic, nonduplicitous comprehension of God than those white individuals who claimed by divine right to be superior to Africans.
He located his own profound reality and faith in a religion that was dear to him not only because it helped him to cope with the atrocities he had endured, but it also gave him a spiritual base from which to fight for justice for his people. Phillis Wheatley overcame extreme obstacles, such as racism and sexism, to become one of the most acclaimed poets in the 18th century. Her works are characterized by religious and moral backgrounds, which are due to the extensive education of religion she received. Her poems often deal with Christian ideals and beliefs. Christianity being a safe topic for a slave woman was used as her lens to strategically look into racial inequality. Although she is not beating anyone over the head with verses from the bible, she is writing her own verse about the powerful effect of faith that changed her soul, and how that change could be reflected across all souls and here on earth too. Wheatley makes an argument throughout her poem “on being brought from Africa to America”, that she has been saved by the mercy of the Christian God and that if she can be saved, then all Christians can be saved.
That means, slave or free, black or white, they are all equal on “the angelic train.” Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land; Taught my benighted soul to understand That there is a god, that there is a savior too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye; “Their color is a diabolic die.” Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, Maybe rein’, and join th’ angelic train. (Wheatley, p.144) Even though she was later criticized for defending the slave trade as a means of civilizing Africans brought to America. However, further reflection to upon the poem shows that its true intension is to move the reader to think more soberly and candidly. Her conversion to Christianity parallels her transition from Africa to America, and while it becomes a source for her belief that all people are equal spiritually, she urges Christians to truly follow their Christian principles. Moreover, the use of Christian imagery allows the speaker to discuss racial inequality in her aim to defuse assumption about race differences. Wheatley’s poem is not a destination it’s a journey filled with angels, Pagans and Cain, which she uses to express her conversion to Christianity. All board the angelic train! Through several mentions of Christian themes, Wheatley uses the Christian promise of salvation as an argument for equality in life. For enslaved Africans the struggle for freedom began at the very moment of their capture.
The story of those who worked tirelessly to end slavery cannot be told without giving due prominence to black abolitionist like Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley. Equiano challenged his readers to see the hypocrisy that was happening within the white Christians and that in Gods eyes, that don’t see color or physical features, we are all the same. Wheatley also encouraged her readers to open their minds and see that all board the angelic train! Black, white, slaves or free. These two writers went through a lot of pain and obstacles to finally be set free. And using their Christian beliefs and biblical verses, they argued to fight against the injustice that was happening against the white Christians during their era to free their people.
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