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Ben Carson v The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetesses in America: when slaves are immigrants

March 24, 2017

The day before I posted “Ben Carson v Frederick Douglass: when slaves are immigrants,” there were many already making much of some many more siding with Dr. Carson and his repeated stubborn assessment of slaves chained in the dark and dank holds of ships crossing the Atlantic as immigrants. For the Washington Post, for example, one Eugene Volokh, an immigrant himself from Ukraine to the United States when a seven-year-old accompanied by his parents, was quick to name those whose words in print and in speech echoed and mirrored those of Dr. Carson, namely Lolita K. Buckner Inniss and Rhonda V. Magee and Geoffrey Heeren and Martin W. Burke and even President Obama.

So let us then add to the voice of the slave named Frederick Douglass the voice of another. But let this addition be in no way some attempt to balance the scales or to make equal the sides. The voice is that of a mere poetess, if many tried her to deny her that name and title.

Here (after a note about her perhaps, an excerpt of a letter by Phillis Wheatley):

Here (a quite different note on Phillis Wheatley, an excerpt from a poem/essay by June Jordan):


If we were to think, to think critically, it could be a little more apparent that what Dr. Carson (and those many others with him) is doing is not unlike what the writer of The Gentleman Magazine is doing. Theirs is an epistemological doing. Their doing is a colonizing construct, an imperial imperative.

“The only way to promote their civilization, to make them serviceble in their generation, and happy in themselves,” the writer writes, “is to introduce them into a state of activity and industry.” And Dr. Carson says, likewise, that they “worked even longer, even harder, for less, [in order to…] pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The writer goes on: “Yet most of these try have been compelled by necessity to leave the place of their nativity.” And so does Dr. Carson: each of them can be called “an involuntary immigrant.”

Their doing is an influencing by names: “Instead of SLAVES, let the Negroes be called ASSISTANT-PLANTERS.” And instead of “slaves” per se, “other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even harder.”

The undoing of the imperial, colonial project comes when slaves like Frederick Douglass clearly show how the legal category of “immigrant” used by colonists “neither described nor applied to slaves… for the slave [not being fully human like the immigrant is] could not owe service or make a contract.”

But the undoing of the imperial, colonial project comes when slaves like Phillis Wheatley clearly shows by her poetry and through her letters how hurtful it is for any human whether ancient Egyptian or modern British colonist to value others for their economic benefit as commodities.


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