Annotation: Paul Baepler’s “Introduction” to White Slaves, African Masters (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

Baepler, Paul. “Introduction.” White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

In his introduction to White Slaves, African Masters Baepler directs our attention to the largely neglected genre of Barbary captivity narratives. While many today may be familiar with Mary Rowlandson’s tale of captivity among the “savage” Indians or Frederick Douglass’ famous slave narrative, stories about the seizure of American sailors, merchants, and women along the Barbary Coast have somehow been forgotten, relegated to distant memory. Baepler contends, however, that Barbary captivity played a significant role in shaping the early political policies of the new republic. For instance, it “forced the government to pay humiliating tributes in cash and military arms to African rulers, stimulated the drive to create the U.S. navy, and brought about the first postrevolutionary war” (2). These narratives also deeply influenced public imagination, providing many Americans with their first glimpses of the distant land of Africa, its culture and its people. Consequently, Baepler argues that by examining these once familiar stories, recognizing where they overlap and borrow from the tradition of Indian captivity and slave narratives, allows us to develop a more nuanced understanding of how racial categorization and perceptions of “otherness” developed in America. Perhaps one of the most fascinating qualities of these Barbary captivity narratives is their incredible diversity. The authors present a wide range of oftentimes-contradictory attitudes and perspectives, for example, using their experiences to critique as well as justify chattel slavery in America. But what I found most interesting and perhaps most relevant to my own interests, is the absence of any verifiable female accounts of barbary captivity. Baepler reveals that the two stories in the anthology purportedly written by women are most likely false. Yet, he asserts that the “existence of these ersatz accounts suggests that the demand for ‘true’ African captivity tales, particularly accounts of women in peril, outstripped their availability” (11). I would like to further explore the public fascination with “women in peril,” and particularly the differences between male and female accounts of barbary captivity. Whereas men often pictured themselves as laboring in a “communal space,” the few accounts we receive from females emphasize isolation and confinement (16). How do these disparities provide insight into attitudes towards women’s rights in early America and how are slavery and womanhood intertwined?

Annotation: bell hooks’ “Revolutionary Black Women” (1999)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my paper: “The Productive, Political Power of Love in Nina Revoyr’s Southland.”

hooks, bell. “Revolutionary Black Women: Making Ourselves Subject.” Black Looks Race and Representation. New York: South End Press, 1999. 9-20. Print.

In this article hooks relates her experience at a meeting with several black feminist women. She reveals that her attempt to share her personal narrative of growing up in a “segregated rural black community that was very supportive,” where she was able to develop a confident self image and have a “positive experience of ‘blackness’,” was sharply rejected by the other women who believed their own stories of pain and cruel victimization were more authentically “black” (44). hooks essentially describes a situation where blacks are themselves complicit in trying to contain difference into recognizable stereotypes. They want to perpetuate the image of the suffering, oppressed black woman because that is what society expects and more readily accepts. hooks emphasizes, however, the need to break down this monolithic essentializing narrative to make room for stories of diverse black female experiences. Rather than clinging onto this popular conception of the victimized, oppressed black woman, hooks calls for an acknowledgement of those women who do love and take tremendous pride in their blackness. She asserts that there will only be true progress when black women stop trying to silence those whose experiences are different from their own and start embracing the tremendous diversity within their own community.

Ultimately, hooks suggests that narratives that explore black self-hatred, where blackness is presented as ugly and undesirable, must be replaced or, at the very least, taught alongside positive narratives of black power and pride, because if students are never shown that blackness is something that can and should be loved, how can they begin to love themselves and one another? hooks emphasizes that this act of loving can serve as a real form of political resistance because it directly challenges the logic of white supremacist thought, which cast blackness as that which should not and cannot be loved. In the following paper I argue that Nina Revoyr’s 2003 novel, Southland, takes on and even expands this political project as a narrative that teaches readers how to love blackness, Asian-ness and most importantly demonstrates that love is possible between members of these two minority groups that have been often depicted as highly antagonistic and antithetical to one another.