The Hidden Cost of Race and Gender in the Wonders of the Invisible World

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Many connections can be found throughout all the texts read this semester, but the one that stood out most to me was discrimination, whether it be against Native Americans, women, or Africans forced into slavery. The colonists originally depended on the Natives when first settling into the new land, but after a while, they decided they deserved the land all to themselves rather than living peacefully with the Natives. Cotton Mather described villagers that even had the gall to communicate with the Natives as devilish people and believed them to be sinners. Mather also believed in the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, unless you were Native American of course, in that case one could be as cruel to the Natives as they want, with no repercussions. 

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The Natives understandably did not take this treatment quietly, instead they began to call their tribes into action claimed that they should not allow the whites to keep treating them cruelly, taking their land, and discriminating against their beliefs. Some of the speeches that can be read today have been presented by an unreliable narrator, such as Powhatans’ speech, which was transcribed by John Smith and presented as manipulation, which in reality may have been different. One tribe leader even changed his name from Metacom, a typical Native name, to King Phillip in front of the Plymouth court. This was most likely in an attempt to relate better with the colonists and maintain peace between the two sets of people. The colonists also had a significant influence on the Natives creation stories, such as the influence of a single omniscient God, they began to reference the devil, and animals were referred to as beast whereas before colonial influence the animals were revered and hunted for the sole purpose of food. This shows that the colonists had begun to slightly alter the Natives religious beliefs and their normal practices. There is an existence of writings from the Spaniards point of view on the treatment of Natives such as Cabeza De Vaca and Bartolome de La Casas. They both give an account of the cruelties committed against the Natives by the Spanish. The Spanish slaughtered villages upon villages of the Natives and “spar’d no Age, or Sex, nay not so much as Women with Child, but ripping up their Bellies, tore them alive in pieces” (Las Casas, 3). They also took natives hostage and forced them into slavery which Las Casas disagreed with, instead he advocated for Africans being forced into slavery. The discrimination against Natives led to them almost being completely forced off of their land which was settled on by the colonists.

In several of the texts we read before 1864, it is evident that women were wildly oppressed and essentially locked into a demure and submissive position. In Sor Juana’s letter, it is clear that she saw her two options as being a meek wife who never has time to study or join a convent in which she would have more time for studying and writing. As opposed to most writings at that time, she did not write about religion but instead turned her focus on feminism and secularism. Hers is considered one of the first feminist texts and defends women’s rights for an education, which was unheard of in that time. Despite all this, in alignment with the time period, Sor Juana was forced to sell the library that she had amassed and ended up renewing her religious vows. Seeing as men hardly allowed women to have an education or focus on studies, it follows that being in a leadership position was completely heard of in Europe or the colonies. This was different in select Native American tribes, which held the position of the sacred woman, who held the highest political position in their tribes. A letter was written to Benjamin Franklin from one of these sacred women in the Cherokee tribe, which he disregarded due to him not understanding that women could be leaders and have good judgment as well. Men in this time period feared and ignored strong capable women, and instead of letting them have their freedom to do what they wanted with their lives, men chose to degrade them and push them back into positions of weak and submissive positions. This was true for white women in the colonies, but African women experienced this situation tenfold. Despite seeing women as weak and helpless, white men still forced African women into slavery and worked them just about as hard as they worked the men. 

Sojourner Truth was one of these women who was discriminated against for not only being black but also being a woman, which led her to face the brunt of a lot of hypocrisy. She is a woman who should “need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place”, yet is worked to the bone by her owners (Truth, 1). Arguably the most noted discrimination was against Africans that were shipped over from the colonies in order to force them into slavery. Slavery was evident during the entire colonial period throughout the colonies and was the foundation of the colony’s economy, which allowed them to go through with the revolution. Despite the Declaration of Independence claiming equality and freedom for all, the newly formed America still chose to force people into mind-boggling cruel circumstances based solely on the color of their skin. Many people justified slavery by claiming that since the slaves sang while they worked, it was a sign of happiness to be doing their jobs. Frederick Douglas contradicts this notion in his narrative by revealing that slaves “sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them” (Douglas, 12). Slowly, people began to magically understand the slavery was cruel and completely unjust. Abolitionists began to rise such as Samuel Sewall who authored the first anti-slavery tract and claimed that it was immoral from both the biblical and philosophical standpoint. In 1789, far before the emancipation of slaves, a man from Nigeria who had been abducted and sold into slavery wrote an autobiography that encouraged slaves to stand up and fight, which immensely aided in the abolitionist’s cause. Transcendentalists, such as Thoreau, joined the abolitionist movement and delivered lectures that attacked the fugitive slave law, seeing as transcendentalists believe in an inherent goodness of people, which means he likely hoped that whites would see their mistakes and begin to turn things around.

In today’s world, these discriminations against these same sets of people are still very present, though not near as severe. Native Americans are pushed onto reserves, women are still frequently seen as being less capable than men, and African Americans, despite not being forced into slavery any longer, are commonly seen as being less than whites and are treated much more harshly by the cops. If everyone somehow stopped discriminated against different races and genders, and instead looked at everyone equally, the world would most likely have a steep decrease in conflict and be much closer to a peaceful existence.

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