The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone

By Iyunolu Folayan Osagie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Slave Revolts and the Production of Identity

Confusion about how we view the Amistad story can in part be resolved by examining it in the context of its Sierra Leone experience. Just as important, however, are the slave revolt contexts of the Americas from which the Amistad emerged in the first place. The historical specificity of slavery in the Western Hemisphere produced its own framework of intergroup relationships. Recent studies in social psychology speak to the centrality of interpersonal relations in the formation of the individual’s selfconcept. Such studies suggest that group identity is fundamental to the construction of self-identity.1 Thus, “interdependent or relational selfconcept is defined in terms of relationships with others in specific contexts, and self-worth is derived from appropriate role behavior”2 Slaves exhibited certain levels of self-evaluation in relation to each other, and they shared in-group characteristics which they projected onto the dominant out-group community of whites. The identity of the slaves was therefore a function of membership both within the in-group and equally by exclusion from the out-group. Given the protracted conflicts engendered by slavery as both an enterprise and an institution, slaveholders and the slaves themselves were seen as embodiments of the institution, thus rendering divergent practices, by both black and white individuals, invisible in the entrenched and sanctioned structures of the institution. For example, the classic struggle between masters and captives in the Amistad revolt, an expression of both black and white collectivities, was censored in the South where institutionalized slavery demanded that the only sanctioned narrative be that of master over slave.

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