Feeding The Ghost Essay, Research Paper
WE ARE BETTER
The novel Feeding the Ghosts, by Fred D’Aguiar, exploits the terrible conditions black people were put through while being transported from Africa to the Americas. It examines the thought process of the captain, the crew, the captives, and the legal system of England. D’Aguiar clearly illustrates the hell that was forced upon the blacks and how even the highest court system of the time saw nothing wrong with it. The whites were the ones who made the laws; the laws were meant to protect the whites. The high court had laws in place about proper procedures on these voyages, but the law wasn’t meant to protect the blacks, or stock as they were referred to, just the well being of the white people involved.
The common conception is that a courtroom is where the truth comes out and justice will be served. It is a safe haven for the innocent and a prison for the guilty. But when the hearing of the investors of the Zong vs. the insurers starts, Lord Mansfield states, “As you know, gentlemen, this is not a criminal trial. It is a hearing” (p. 139). No, this would never be a criminal trial. It wasn’t illegal to murder black slaves if there was good enough reason. Blacks didn’t have human rights like the whites did. Laws weren’t created to protect the black man; they were there for the well being of the white person. Anyways, the black person was stock in the eyes of the law so the treatment of stock was the question at hand.
“Which law did the captain break? None according to English statutes. What is being disputed here? Whether his actions were within the law that describes the treatment of slave stock.” (p. 171)
Whites made the laws, whites enforced them, whites benefited from them. Captain Cunningham isn’t on trial for throwing 131 sick slaves overboard, the crew isn’t on trial for committing acts of inhumanity, but rather this is a hearing of whether the actions taken were in protection of the remaining stock; whether some of the sick slaves could have been spared and sold in the Americas for a profit. The insurers aren’t there to stand up and defend the black slaves; they are there to protect themselves from having to pay ?5,109. The lawyer for the insurers constantly refers to the black slaves as stock, but in the next sentence he talks of how many men, women, and children could have lived and been productive slaves. How in one breath can a person be stock and the next human?
“Africans are categorized as stock, but it has been long recognized by civilized people that they are only labeled so for their conveyance from Africa to the plantations and not because they are actually equal to animals. English society is replete with examples of Africans who conduct themselves in a civilized manner. Mr. Wilkes was interrupted by loud laughter.” (p. 142)
There is a small amount of people who recognize that blacks have rights and that they are not much different from us, but even those who recognize this are still placing them far below the whites. This recognition isn’t even remotely a change in the way people think. It is more an ignorance of the fact that blacks can be smart and civilized and rather a belief that no matter how civilized or smart, they will never match up with whites. White people believe that the blacks weren’t meant to be smart, but rather were meant to be workers of the land. When whites see a black person, they think how much money could they get for him. If one was educated, it was an isolated occurrence and that person was basically still invisible to the white person. There was an acceptance of the blacks being human, but it was obvious that they were considered in a different breath. Blacks were human but they weren’t people. They were stock, the same type of stock as say maybe horses or sugar canes. So the acceptable treatment of blacks when they were stock was completely different from when they were civilians in England.
The supremacy of whites has long been the power that has ruled. There is formal rule structured around the beliefs and needs of whites. There is informal rule built around the whites loathing of blacks. The blacks couldn’t get jobs, couldn’t get money to afford an education or food, let alone the better things in life. If there is no way for the blacks to better themselves then they could never reach the same level as the whites. Was this a coincidence? No, it was the way things were meant to be. As Charles Mills states in The Racial Contract, “White supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today” (1). The main underlying component in recent history is the influence of the white person. Whites have placed their own beliefs into the common laws of the land. Maybe this wasn’t meant to happen but the matter of fact is those prejudices are there and they unfairly place one above another.
The investors saw the black people as a paycheck, as something to sell over sees to farm the land, as stock. The insurers saw the blacks as stock also, but as stock that should have been treated better. The judge saw the actions taken by the captain and crew as distasteful but necessary to further protect from the loss of the stock. The necessity to kill 131 black people was understandable to them, but the need to kill 131 white people could never be acceptable. The killings were acceptable and the insurers had to pay because evidence brought forth by the cook’s assistant wasn’t sufficient. The writing of a black slave who was thrown into the sea and climbed back onto the ship wasn’t enough. It was an invented fabricated story by the insurers. Surely no black woman would be so educated and remain unknown to the crew. The insurers claimed that the crew was throwing over perfectly healthy people and the evidence supported this notion. Although the evidence was questioned for being allowed since it questioned the law of blacks as stock. If the blacks weren’t stock then the murdering of slaves would have been illegal. The whites are over looking the real matter of why this went to trial, the ethical treatment of blacks, and instead concerning themselves with whether the actions were within the legal arm of the law.
When I took American Government in high school, my teacher said something that I never heard or thought of before. From then on it has always stuck with me and I believe it applies here. In the first sentence of the Constitution of the United States it states, “We the people of the United States of America.” The original writers of the constitution didn’t intend we the people to mean everyone, they were simply implying white people, not black, were covered under the constitution. This is something I never considered since America was the land of the free. Whites have always had power in the world and long have been the policy makers. Although the thought process of whites has changed and the acceptance of blacks as equal is making progress, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In this day of educated people, mass media and mass communication there is still an underlying prejudice against the black person. Things haven’t changed enough to say we are equal. Time is the main component in changing this. Something that has been rooted in white backgrounds and common laws for hundreds of years doesn’t change in a few decades. Here at UW-La Crosse students are required to take a minority studies class and similar programs are underway at other colleges. Education is the first step to closing the gap. The second step is changing how one perceives another who is different from them.
Will the world ever be able to do away with prejudice? Or is prejudice something that is like second nature. Everyone is entitled to their own thoughts, so wouldn’t that entitle everyone to having a prejudice?
D’Aguiar, Fred. Feeding The Ghosts. A Novel. New York: The Ecco
Press, HarperCollins, 1997.