William Apess, Writing Against The Stupidity of Racial Discrimination in 1833

But, reader, I acknowledge that this is a confused world, and I am not seeking for office; but merely placing before you the black inconsistency that you place before me–which is ten times blacker than any skin that you will find in the Universe. And now let me exhort you to do away that principle, as it appears ten times worse in the sight of God and candid men, than skins of color–more disgraceful than all the skins that Jehovah ever made. If black or red skins, or any other skin of color is disgraceful to God, it appears that he has disgraced himself a great deal–for he has made fifteen colored people to one white, and placed them here upon this earth. 

Now let me ask you, white man, if it is a disgrace for to eat, drink and sleep with the image of God, or sit, or walk and talk with them? Or have you the folly to think that the white man, being one in fifteen or sixteen, are the only beloved images of God? Assemble all nations together in your imagination, and then let the whites be seated amongst them, and then let us look for the whites, and I doubt not it would be hard finding them; for to the rest of the nations, they are still but a handful. Now suppose these skins were put together, and each skin had its national crimes written upon it–which skin do you think would have the greatest? I will ask one question more. Can you charge the Indians with robbing a nation almost of their whole Continent, and murdering their women and children, and then depriving the remainder of their lawful rights, that nature and God require them to have? And to cap the climax, rob another nation to till their grounds, and welter out their days under the lash with hunger and fatigue under the scorching rays of a burning sun? I should look at all the skins, and I know that when I cast my eye upon that white skin, and if I saw those crimes written upon it, I should enter my protest against it immediately, and cleave to that which is more honorable. 

And I can tell you that I am satisfied with the manner of my creation, fully–whether others are or not.

William Apess, a converted Methodist minister from the Pequot tribe, had this to say in his essay An Indian’s Looking Glass For The White Man .  It’s an amazing and moving bit of prose on its own, but moreso when you consider the time it was written in.  America wouldn’t widely be open to such a viewpoint until nearly a hundred years later, during the civil rights movement.  Though such racism was entrenched, Apess still spoke out.  Historian Patricia Bizzell calls him “perhaps the most successful activist on behalf of Indian rights in the antebellum United States.”  Equally eloquent as he is impassioned, a person can see why he might earn that title.

I think Apess is brilliant here, because he leverages his argument perfectly, in a way that might even break through the haze of racism that dominated the time.  God was the center of the national conscience in that day.  Using the language of god, he showed the hierarchy of races that the industrial empire promulgated was not of god, but was a cruel device meant to perpetuate domination.  His voice rings in colonial society like the inflammatory writ of the old biblical prophets.  Calling for an end to injustice, stripping away excuses for why such injustice was allowed to continue.

I hope everyone who’s interested in the history of this continent and the people who lived here takes a look at Apess’s essay.  It’s important, and speaks a view largely censured by the victors in the historical struggle.


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