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Frederick Douglass’s Anti-Slavery Stance in

Frederick Douglass’s Anti-Slavery Stance in

First published in 1855, My Bondage and My Freedom is an autobiography by Fredrick Douglass starting at the point that he was a slave, then a fugitive, and ends as a free man fighting against slavery in the America. He believed in the equality of all men and women, and challenged the racial prejudice through his own work and accomplishments.

First published in 1855, My Bondage and My Freedom is an autobiography by Fredrick Douglass starting at the point that he was a slave, then a fugitive, and ends as a free man fighting against slavery in the America. He believed in the equality of all men and women, and challenged the racial prejudice through his own work and accomplishments. In My Bondage and My Freedom, Douglass refuted the idea of racial inferiority and stood as a living counter-example of pro-slavery arguments; he disproved the idea that blacks are supposed to be slaves and cannot be considered citizens because they lack the intellectual capacity like whites. Frederick Douglass emerged as an organic intellectual that fought against slavery by educating people on the life of black men behind the veil, and that abolishing slavery was necessary to save the nation’s “soul”.

Douglass was an organic intellectual since he was a slave himself; thus he uses the language of culture, and his views and experiences on slavery into perspective. This helps the audience relate to the issue easier in compared to other abolitionists who did not provide a sense of homogeneity. Douglass published his biography because he believed knowledge is the best way to fight against the inhuman institution of slavery; however instead of applying philosophy or reason in his arguments, he used emotion to illustrate the brutality of slavery. One example in his memoir is the way slaves were punished by their masters or masters’ overseer. One particular example is the punishments of his cousin Henny who was lame, which he describes “I have no extraordinary personal hard usage toward myself to complain of, but I have seen him tie up the lamed and maimed woman and whip her in a manner most brutal and shocking” (Douglass, p. 155). Henny would be tied up for hours at a time and the master would whip her in the morning and leave her tied up.

In this book other influences of the slavery on society was displayed. Douglass explains how the very existence of slavery in society was hurting the basic humanity of both sides, the slaver as well as the enslaved. Using an excellent descriptive language, he shows different aspects of a slave’s life, under different conditions and owners, and an insight deep into the challenges slaves face on a daily basis. This intimate approach helps the reader understand the injustice basis ideology of slavery and the essence of eliminating it. Douglass demonstrates how masters can be violent, cruel and unfair in order to appear dominant over the black slaves. One of the examples of this behavior is his childhood memories where he first portrays his bitterness, “Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families. Slavery has no use for either fathers or families, and its laws do not recognize their existence in the social arrangements of the plantation” (Douglass, p. 51). Detailed description of his separation from his family and the continuous physical abuses and mistreatments, are not to gain sympathy from the reader; Douglass was a strong man who was not afraid of speaking on his beliefs, and his goal was to explain what prompts human behavior on doing such evil to another human being and how the human nature is involved in that. In this sense, Douglass’s autobiography is similar to De Bois’ literature; in The Souls of Black Folk, De Bois illustrates the black men’s experiences during the period of reconstruction in American societies. He talks about a raceless society that each individual is solely judged based on his or her personal character, however the idea of race still affects many people’s every-day decisions and views. The concept of “double-consciousness” is also seen in My Bondage and My Freedom (even though De Bois used the term decades after this book was published); yet Douglass describes how black men and women are dehumanized and their “American identities” are ignored behind their “black identity”. For years, many individuals who promoted slavery, resisted the idea of merging these two identities together by creating a “veil” so many don’t fully understand what life is for slaves. The culture of Christmas was an example of such behavior; when slaves were given some freedom which was never really theirs. Douglass explains this by saying “it is the sober, thinking slave who is dangerous, and needs the vigilance of his master, to keep him a slave.” (Douglass, p. 194). Slave owners provided large amounts of alcohol so the slaves would be intoxicated which would lead them to show behaviors out of norm such as hostile and destructive attitude towards people around them. Those poor behavior would be used against the slave the rest of year to convince them on the necessity of slaver-slave relationship; slavers claimed blacks were given the opportunity of “freedom” and enjoying themselves, but the slaves’ misbehavior confirmed the essence of having a master to prevent them from doing wrong; “these holidays serve the purpose of keeping the minds of the slaves occupied with prospective pleasure, within the limits of slavery.” (Douglass, p. 192).

Destabilizing the structure of slave-family and objectifying slaves were another ways slavery-advocates inferiorized blacks in America. Douglass illustrates how growing up as a child, his grandmother was the world to him and when was sent to the plantation to work, he was introduced to “brothers” and “sisters” he did not know about their existence. Despite feeling like a stranger, his new “relatives” help him adapt and get used to this new way of life and his new responsibilities as a child. He portrays his feelings on lack of a family structure as “It had made my brothers and sisters strangers to me; it converted the mother that bore me, into a myth; it shrouded my father in mystery, and left me without an intelligible beginning in the world.” (Douglass, p. 57). Another approach towards inferiorized slaves was objectifying them. One of the events that influenced Douglass was when Capt. Anthony died and as one of Captain’s “properties”, he had to return to Maryland for the division of assets between Captain’s two children. Standing as human chattel next to other animals while he was being evaluated to be sold, he expresses his feelings next to other slaves as “distressing anxiety” and “dread of separation”. The idea is that slave owners promote the “veil” between whites and blacks to prevent slaves from having an identity as a human being by categorizing the slaves next to animals and other individual assets. Douglass verifies this by saying “Our destiny was now to be fixed for life, and we had no more voice in the decision of the question, than the oxen and cows that stood chewing at the haymow.” (Douglass, p. 138).

Because of Douglass’s blunt support for the inalienable rights of every person regardless of their gender or skin color, many of his arguments are still applicable in today’s society. He criticized the lack of justice in our society almost two centuries ago which still continues to be an issue in America. In his autobiography, Douglass not only talks about the inhuman institution of slavery, rather he points out to many other issues such as women’s suffrage, labor rights, the political participation of all citizens and many other ongoing issues that we are still dealing with in our society. My Bondage and My Freedom is one of the most outstanding literatures describing the lives of minorities in America and it still continues to inform the readers on the every-day challenged minorities face even in the 21st century.

Sid Mirgati
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