Perspectives in African American History and culture

The history of the Unites States of America is full of different points of view and still rests on racial issues, which always divide people on black and white.

The author of Navigating Distant Shores: A Historical Overview, Ronald Dorris, makes a wonderful attempt to evaluate this racial division that is so inherent to all Americans and prove that “a people who embraced being politically defined as white, as opposed to embracing that which is humane, enslaved themselves equally as much they sought to enslave a people politically defined as black” (Dorris, 2005).

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He presents a captivating historical overview of black-and-white relations, considers the roots of slavery, and evaluates how the cooperation between black Americans and white Americans has changed during several centuries, taking into account the eras of Abraham Lincoln, Jim Crow, Kennedy, and Johnson. The ideas, discussed in Dorris’ piece of writing, have proper background and represent personal attitude to the problem not judged by numerous racial inequalities.

The author of the paper defines race and slavery as two major social constructs, which played a significant role in the American history and considerably influenced the American future. Robert Dorris underlines that slavery did not actually exist. Even if a person was kidnapped, and some kind of chain was put on his/her body, this person could not be called a slave. The point is that a person has both, mind and body, and if a person could not accept the idea of being enslaved, he/she was not a slave.

Due to such reasoning, slavery was a social construct, and who believed in this construct was enslaved as well. However, this idea contradicts many other ideas, offered by other authors. For example, Richard Ross Watkins (2001) admits that there are several ways to become a slave, and one of such ways is to be born a slave. And when a person is born to be a slave, he just cannot accept slavery as a social construct.

Almost the whole article is based on a kind of chronology that presents the development of slavery and contradictions, which happen between white people and black people. To underline that slavery is not all about black and white, Dorris uses several examples from Egyptian history and addresses the Book of the Dead.

He talks about power, power of body and power of mind; he uses the connection between heaven and earth in order to explain African transportation over the Atlantic Ocean. Further, he indicates dates and describes the brightest events, which had an impact on modern perception of slavery and race inequality.

At the end of the chapter, the author uses the words by Martin Luther King about the necessity to create cooperation between Negroes and whites by “the fact of contract” (Dorris, 2005).

The use the ideas of a person, who underlined that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (King, 2000) is not that appropriate for the person, who early admits that slavery did not exist. This is why the work under consideration may be regarded as really educative and reliable but a bit difficult for understanding the main idea of the author.

In general, the approach, chosen by Robert Dorris in this work, is clear enough. He was eager to present a new idea that may help to understand the nature of slavery, the reasons of why people were so prejudged with the questions of race, and the outcomes, which people can observe nowadays, and achieved this purpose by means of a historical overview of the events.

Reference List

Dorris, R., Heglar, C. J. & Jamison, D. F. (2005). Perspectives in African American History and Culture: An Introductory Reader. Tapestry Press.

King, M.L. & Jackson, J. (2000). Why We Can’t Wait? New York: New American Library.

Watkins, R. R. (2001). Slavery: Bondage throughout History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


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