The Atlantic

The Power of Untold Slave Narratives

In Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston challenges the American public’s narrow view of the African continent, the transatlantic slave trade, and the diasporic cultures that came as a result of it.
Source: Amy Walker / Wikimedia Commons

Precolonial black history is often reduced to a troubling binary: Africans as a uniformly subservient arm of the triangular trade and Africa through the lens of monarchies like ancient Egypt and Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia. Consider Nas’s 2003 song “” (his to date), which was widely lauded for its uplifting message. To open his last verse, he pleads with black children to look to the distant past for inspiration: “[Before] we came to this country / We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys.” Incomplete and romanticized readings of history have resulted in a fanatical, monolithic image of Africa, or worse, a dismissal of the rest of the continent as a backwards land that colonizers rightfully raided. Both myopic narratives prevent people from exploring the continent’s full range of societies—not only spurring resentment among African Americans

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