American Studies and Ethnicity Essay

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The goal of the European explorers in the sixteenth century was to find new places. When the Europeans arrived in Africa, they discovered that the continent had a wealth of resources, including fertile, vast territory, minerals, and potential labor. Since they believed the natives to be undeveloped, they tried to convert and assimilate them into their own cultures. The arrival of this shift of guard in the region that gave rise to humankind was met with resistance from the locals. They had their resources stolen from them, and they were forced to supply the new settlers with cheap labor. This signaled the beginning of colonization, one of the pivotal events in the history of Africa. The slave trade marked the beginning of the African American population with a burgeoning African population that would forge an identity of their own, as Hartman appreciates it:

I would seek the commoners, the unwilling and coerced migrants who created a culture in the hostile world of the Americas and who fashioned themselves again, making possibility out of dispossession (7).

The Europeans continued their search through the Atlantic Ocean for the new lands. For their journey, hordes of able-bodied African men and women were taken to provide the much-needed cheap labor for the travel and continuation of the manpower to cater for their needs when they settled in the new lands. The ships lacked engines, so the black laborers were mainly brought along to provide power for the ships. A significant part of these population did not get to see their new home as they lost their lives during the tumultuous journey that was accompanied with emaciation, exhaustion, exposure to diseases and extrajudicial punishment. Their human rights were discarded, and resistance was frowned upon and attracted pain and suffering. The slaves toiled night and day to enable the ambitions of explorers who wanted to be the first to arrive in the Americas. The Explorers also received resistance from various factions of the American natives. The same-problem-same-solution tactic was then applied. The American natives like the Africans were victims of brutality which Hartman describes as deserving commemoration:

I had entered the dungeon intending to do all the fine things stated in the marble plaque posted at the entrance: commemorate the dead, remember the anguish of the ancestors, and prevent such crimes against humanity from ever happening again. (115-116)

Both the Africans and the indigenous people of the west were subjected to colonialism. Africans were the first to acquaint themselves with the new changes in their lifestyle. The American natives had colonialism as a reality after the Africans had borne the brunt of it. Africa was rich in natural resources, and this was a major attraction to the white settlers. Uprisings from the natives sparked conflict with the visitors (Nayar). The Europeans had far better battle artillery than the Africans and the Native Americans, and much of the resistance was rendered futile. The communities that did not acclimatize to the white rule suffered the consequences including being forced into slavery and death. After their arrival in the Americas, the Europeans also found that the land was abundant in natural resources that were underexploited. They also moved from the coasts inwards and settled to their liking. In this land, the white settlers also dealt with resistance from the indigenous people. The new settlers applied the same forceful tactics to counter this resistance to colonialism (Valdez). Hartman captures the violent seizure of the native's natural resources in one phrase, "we may have forgotten our country, but we haven’t forgotten our dispossession” (87).

Culture is a core aspect in defining the identity of a community. Around the colonial period and the 19th century, the African and American indigenous people were exposed to European culture. The way they dressed, eating habits, their language and the other key features of their cultures were different. The Europeans saw the cultures of the natives as unrefined. Assimilation of the settler’s culture gradually gained ground in the new lands, and some natives started to follow the new trends as the ones who stuck to their culture were seen as backward. New religions were imposed on the natives depending on who colonized them. Those who accepted the new religion, and in extension colonialism, were spared and received better deals than their resistive counterparts. Being assimilated into this new way of worship meant the denouncing of their previous faith. As religion was part and parcel of their culture, colonialism led to the deterioration of the way of life of those they converted. For some communities, their new culture became a hybrid of their previous culture and the European one for the sake of maintaining their identity while others were steadfast in their beliefs. European settlement stretched its influence into the government of the natives. Colonialism converted most native regimes to European forms of governing. Kingdoms, parliamentarian governments, and communism found their way onto the indigenous communities. Some traditional rulers were ousted while others were supported or included in the new governments according to how they reacted to colonialism. Colonialism morphed the traditional governments into the taste of their settlers. Hartman explains that the adoption of culture was so profound that it belittled any culture that was not European:

Despite the dictates of law and masters, which prohibited the discussion of a person's origins, everyone remembered the stranger in the village; everyone recalled who had been a slave and with a discerning glance just as easily identified their descendants. (155)

Although both the native African and Americans were subjected to colonialism, some differences exist in their experiences. Most Africans were snatched from their homes and brought to America as slaves, dispossessed of their possessions, their heritage, and their dignity. The native Americans were fending off the Europeans in their homes, and therefore only faced the Europeans as rivals for resources. The triumph of the Europeans dispossessed the natives of their resources, and the cultural assimilation dispossessed them of their heritage. They were, therefore, lower than their European masters in the social hierarchy, but still higher than the African slaves.

In their journey to America, the Europeans needed labor to necessitate their arrival and settlement in the new lands. Africa provided adequate labor in the form of slaves. They took productive Africans as slaves to be the laborers in their ships and their new estates. Africans were forced into slavery in their backyard and far away from home when they arrived in America. The American indigenous people did not experience slavery in a foreign land. The natives of the West were colonialized at home with hardly any of them being brought along in any of the travels of the explorers. Africans were again exposed to a different culture and had to adapt quickly to avoid any repercussions. Missing home was one of the effects of colonialism on the African immigrant slaves in America. The reminiscent mood of the African slave screams out in Hartman’s explanation, “It’s why we never tire of dreaming of a place that we can call home, a place better than here, wherever here might be” (87).

America has become a nation of immigrants after a lot of activism to abolish slavery and to establish equality of human rights. Many other people from areas other than Africa have since then moved to America. People have been attracted to this land of dreams, freedom, and opportunities after the happenings during and after slavery. Intolerance and segregation are ebbing away gradually as even interracial marriages are becoming a common highlight in the new America. Peace and harmony have reined in place of conflict. (Kennedy). The transformation of the immigrants is evident in the statement:

“I would seek the commoners, the unwilling and coerced migrants who created aculture in the hostile world of the Americas and who fashioned themselves again,making possibility out of dispossession” (Hartman 7).

Political willpower had been shaped partly by racial factions and slavery prevalence especially in the southern part of America where the explorers first arrived. The emancipation of slaves came to fruition because of political action. Abolition of slavery was the gem in Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. When the blacks were allowed to vote equally as the white immigrants, the political scene went through a change. The blacks could finally have an avenue to voice their concerns and even contest for political seats. This was a microcosm of what was to come in the form of election of a black president after a long struggle to get their human rights back. The minority immigrant communities now have political willpower (Acharya, Blackwell and Sen 24). They have representation in their new home away from home (Brettell). These developments are a fulfillment of the legacy that Hartman expresses:

The legacy that I chose to claim was articulated in the ongoing struggle to escape,stand down, and defeat slavery in all of its myriad forms. It was the fugitive’s legacy […] It wasn’t the dream of a White House, even if it was in Harlem, but of a free territory. It was a dream of autonomy rather than nationhood. (234)

Integration into the new society of America is needed for any immigrant especially a minority to survive. The immigration of people has affected the economy of America. The economy depended on the immigrants as well as the existing natives (Abramitzky and Boustan). The present day America defies the definition that “the most universal definition of the slave is a stranger (Hartman 5)”. America is now the land of immigrants who came together to build a strong nation. The immigrants and natives can no longer recite Hartman's cry of deposession that, "we stay there, but we don’t live there (Hartman 87)”.

Colonialism had various effects on the world. Africans were taken as slaves to America by the European explorers. After many years of the fight for their freedom Africans, indigenous Americans, as well as other minorities, are gaining their human rights and getting their fair share. Despite the various nefarious effects of colonialism, civilization was brought about by it. The consequences of the white rule have had far-reaching influence throughout the decades to shape the world into a cosmopolitan entity. Most importantly, the legacy of America as a homogenous nation of immigrants has its roots in this narrative.


Abramitzky, Ran and Leah Platt Boustan. "Immigration in American Economic History." NBER Working Paper Series (2016). Print.

Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell and Maya Sen. "The Political Legacy of American Slavery." Forthcoming, Journal of Politics (2016). Print.

Brettell, Caroline B. "Theorizing Migration In Anthropology." Brettell, Caroline B. Migration Theory. New York: Psychology Press, 2000. 97-137. Print.

Kennedy, John F. "A Nation of Immigrants." Harper Perennial (2008). Print.

Nayar, Pramod K. "Mobility, Migrant Mnemonics and Memory Citizenship: Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother." Nordic Journal of English Studies 12.2 (2013): 81-101. Print.

Valdez, Zulema. "The Abandoned Promise of Civil Rights." Socioloical Forum 30.S1 (2015): 612-626. Print.

June 26, 2023

History Science

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