The Impact of Racism in "The Book of Negroes"

Writing, reading, and literature serve as powerful mediums to encapsulate the struggles faced while fighting for equality. Lawrence Hill's novel, "The Book of Negroes," delves into the hardships experienced by African Americans as they combat prejudice and discrimination within their society. Racism, as portrayed through Aminata's narrative, inflicts a negative toll on her life, leading to the loss of freedom, lowered self-esteem, and a profound sense of powerlessness.

Loss of Freedom

Aminata's journey unfolds against the backdrop of a ruthless and differentiated treatment by Americans, resulting in a profound loss of freedom.

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As a helpless woman, Aminata finds herself unable to assert any control over her circumstances. For instance, her white owner disregards her cultural norms, offering her forbidden food, stating, "I would sooner die than eat pork" (Hill, 105). This act exemplifies Aminata's powerlessness, where even basic choices are dictated by her owner.

The extent of her dependence is further highlighted when the Toubabs, or whites, control every aspect of her life.

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Aminata's need for basic necessities like water and food becomes contingent on their consent: "There is no water. No food. No breaks to pee" (116). This lack of autonomy reflects the dehumanizing impact of racism, stripping Aminata of the freedoms inherent in her humanity.

Aminata's longing for education and personal freedom is also curtailed, as reflected in her dream of being the only woman in her village capable of reading the Qur'an and writing Arabic script (22). The stark contrast between her past aspirations and present reality further accentuates the profound loss of freedom.

Moreover, Aminata's sense of self-determination is systematically dismantled by the American owners, who subject her to demeaning treatment and constant surveillance. The loss of her agency is palpable as she narrates, "I had no clothes, no beauty, no hair, and no womanhood" (178) during a particularly brutal incident. The intentional stripping away of her identity symbolizes the broader attack on her freedom, reducing her to a mere object of abuse.

It's crucial to recognize that the loss of freedom extends beyond the physical realm, permeating Aminata's psyche. The inability to practice her cultural and religious beliefs further exacerbates her sense of captivity. The dreams she once harbored of intellectual pursuits and personal growth are stifled by the oppressive environment, leaving an indelible mark on her identity.

Lowered Self-Esteem

Racism takes a toll on Aminata's self-esteem, instilling a deep sense of inadequacy. She internalizes the belief that being of African descent means being inherently inferior. A friend's statement reinforces this idea, asserting that having "any nigger in you at all, then you is a slave as clear as day" (134). This belief system erodes Aminata's confidence, convincing her that her destiny is predetermined as a perpetual slave.

Physical abuse and dehumanization by white owners further contribute to Aminata's lowered self-esteem. The brutal incident where she is stripped and abused results in a profound identity crisis: "I screamed as I have never screamed before, I did not recognize myself, I had no clothes, no beauty, no hair, and no womanhood" (178). The physical abuse becomes a tool for degrading her self-worth, reinforcing the narrative of blacks as deserving of such treatment.

Moreover, the constant reinforcement of racist ideologies in the form of derogatory slurs and discriminatory practices reinforces Aminata's internalization of her perceived worthlessness. The denigrating labels, such as being referred to as "the crazy big mouthed African" (175), contribute to her sense of being a lesser being, unworthy of respect or dignity.

It's essential to recognize that Aminata's lowered self-esteem is not a consequence of personal shortcomings but a direct result of systemic racism. The narrative meticulously illustrates how prejudice and discrimination create an environment that erodes the very fabric of one's self-worth.

Feelings of Powerlessness

Aminata's perceived lower social status renders her powerless in the face of American owners who exercise their dominance through racial epithets and physical abuse. The racial hierarchy is evident in the prohibition against Africans calling white men 'white,' as

expressed by her friend: "you call a white man white, he beat you black and blue" (129). This underscores the power dynamic, where whites are seen as powerful, and Africans are dehumanized as slaves.

The imposition of discriminatory laws further accentuates Aminata's powerlessness. An illustrative instance is the prohibition against her dressing "grand" (176). Such restrictions emphasize her lack of agency, restricting even her choice of clothing. Aminata's powerlessness is perpetuated by the Americans' abusive behavior, reinforcing a narrative that diminishes her worth and reinforces her subjugation.

Furthermore, Aminata's inability to challenge the degrading treatment and discriminatory practices reflects the broader power structures at play. The very definition of her identity is shaped by those in positions of power, leaving her disempowered and voiceless in the face of systemic racism.

In conclusion, the impact of racism on Aminata in "The Book of Negroes" is profound, extending far beyond the physical realm. The loss of freedom, lowered self-esteem, and feelings of powerlessness collectively depict the corrosive effects of systemic discrimination. Aminata's narrative serves as a poignant reminder of the destructive consequences of racism, urging society to confront and dismantle such prejudicial systems. Overcoming racial prejudices becomes paramount for fostering a more equitable and just society where individuals are not defined by the color of their skin but by their shared humanity.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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The Impact of Racism in "The Book of Negroes". (2016, Sep 11). Retrieved from

The Impact of Racism in "The Book of Negroes" essay
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