The Book of Negroes: pages 279-470
When analyzing Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes from a post-colonial point of view, I can recognize the problems and repercussions of the explicit colonial oppression that is shown in the story. At the centre of everything is the expansion of European power, through the colonization of new land, and the ideology that white people can control others solely based on skin colour. In the first section of the novel, we follow alongside main character, Aminata’s, journey after the British have taken the lives of her parents and she has been captured. She is taken from the rich culture and safety of her home in West Africa, and is now under the brutal control of the British, working for them as a slave.
Throughout her entire life, up until the end of the novel, Aminata has faced many challenges that have only led her farther and farther away from who she once was. She was a Muslim girl, who spoke no English, and practiced midwifery with her mother. Now, ripped from this reality and told that the only way to live is to embody what the British desire, Africa becomes more than an ocean away from her. The oppression of colonization, however, has made Aminata smarter in some ways. She utilizes her intelligence and learns how to read and write english very well; because of this, she stands out amongst the other captives.
Looking back to the first two sections of the novel, the problems of post-colonial identity are introduced to the reader. The slave ship alone — on which Aminata and some two hundred others are carried from Africa to British-colonized North America — is a place where Africans are shown disrespect, humiliation, and have their dignity stolen. For example, Aminata describes about the slave ship, “The men couldn’t stand unless they stooped — chained in pairs — in the narrow corridor where I walked […] They were all shouting for the same things: water, food, air, light”(Hill 64). Moving further to Charles Town, SC, where Aminata works as a personal slave for Solomon Lindo and his family, the reader gets a glimpse of the messy, colonized society in which they live. The centre of everything for white men is money, while the centre of every struggle for a black slave is freedom. In order to have the most maximized income, the white people must exploit the abilities of the black people — who they own — because even these white people are answering to an even higher authority.
Are you still with me?
You see, there is no such thing as racial equality in this colonizing society, for there are even struggles for those who practice Judaism. As ironic as it is, even Solomon Lindo does’t consider himself treated equally as a “white man” because he is Jewish. This infuriates Aminata because while she doesn’t have her own freedom, he still walks freely because he has white skin. Aminata says about Lindo, “He had told me that Jews and Africans could understand each other because we were both outsiders, but even though the man preferred the term servant to slave, he owned me”(209). While Aminata’s personal dehumanizations are conducted on the first level by white men, the corruption of society as a whole is conducted by even more powerful authority figures such as the King and Queen of England and owners of large corporations.
By the final third of the book, Aminata has escaped Lindo and any other white power, and is volunteering to teach English class at a chapel in her community of other free Africans. While she feels a sense of liberation for once in her life, she decides to send out to get herself, her husband, and thousands of other slaves to the “promised land” of the uncolonized Nova Scotia. Aminata says to her husband, “We aren’t far from free, but we aren’t there yet. Not until we leave the Thirteen Colonies”(289). In this story, anyone who doesn’t have white skin or economic power was considered the “other.” If an “other” was brought over to live in a colony, they were under the complete control of some European superior. This displays exactly how race alone was able to shape people’s beliefs and perceptions of themselves and others. This white hegemony seemed to be undermined by intelligent black men and women, which clearly was not what the Europeans had planned.
Aminata becomes a Black Loyalist, sails among 3000 others to Nova Scotia, and is finally considered “free.” Although, at the time of this novel, there really is no such thing as a free black person living on British land, and their freedom comes with some cost. When brought over to Nova Scotia, the slaves are promised by the British that they would have freedom, though soon they find out that they are still under the control of the larger authority. The Book of Negroes reveals overall that there was more to the anti-colonialist resistance than just looking for freedom and finding it, for slavery was a multiple-century-long occurrence. Even when a glimpse of freedom is found for those who are enslaved in the Thirteen Colonies of the Eastern United States, the fight to have full freedom must carry on still.
Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Trade pbk. ed., Toronto, HarperCollins, 2007.