Slaves to Racism
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As an outsider, his academic training allowed him to apply the principles of sociology and anthropology to what he observed. He analyzes the highly-charged issues of racism, discrimination and hypocrisy with humor, grace and understanding.
His wife Anita K. Dennis has a degree in sociology with a minor in anthropology and has been accepted into her husband’s Mende tribe.
It documents the international and invisible racism that has affected and continues to affect the lives of two races – black and white.
The introduction provides a vivid comparison of aspects of American and Liberian racism, although the authors acknowledge that “America and Liberia are very different countries on very different continents . . . [, with] different cultures and racial combinations . . . ” They add: “Under the influence of Americo-Liberian oppression and white missionary and business activity, natives were gradually made socially and culturally insecure. To fit into Americo-Liberian society, they had to follow Americo-Liberian ways. . . . [and] essentially replicated the destructive cultural mentalities of the Americo-Liberians.”
In a well-argued introduction and twelve chapters divided into three parts, Slaves to Racism provides important historical perspectives on several aspects of the life that the Americo-Liberians made for themselves in Liberia. In particular, it relates how, in April 1980, the authors learned via telephone “that President [William R.] Tolbert, of the Americo-Liberian ruling elite, had been assassinated in the Executive Mansion by a group of security guards who were African-Liberians. . . .” Indeed, says Benjamin Dennis, the events of spring 1980 “wiped out my plans to return home [to Liberia].”
The April 1980 anti-Americo-Liberian coup d’etat, spearheaded by Samuel Doe of the Krahn ethnic group, led to a great deal of bloodshed, including the death of two of Benjamin Dennis’s relatives: “Ten days later, in another [phone] call, I heard that African-Liberian soldiers had tied thirteen Americo-Liberian government officials to poles on the beach and machine-gunned them. One was a cousin, Cecil Dennis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. . . . My uncle C. C. Dennis, a prominent newspaper publisher in Monrovia, had been chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death.”
The six chapters of part 1 delve into the nature of racism as it is practiced and promoted by Americo-Liberians. In part 2 the authors provide an analysis of the effect of racism on the national character of America, along with its complexities, realities, myths, and hypocrisies. To the authors, notions such as integration, equal opportunity, white Christian benevolence, and assimilation are all mythical phenomena. Part 3 serves as the conclusion, opening with the words of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The greatest sin of our time is not the few who have destroyed, but the vast majority who had sat idly by.” It is an apt quotation from the leader who also once described 11:00 a.m. on Sundays as the most segregated hour in America.
While the authors lament the destruction wrought during the civil war by warlords like Charles Taylor and others, the democratically run election in 2005 of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seems to have given them hope. They draw on the inaugural address of John F. Kennedy to prompt Liberians to serve their country selflessly: “We must ‘ask not what Liberia can do for us, but what we can do for Liberia.’” In their view, nothing will help Liberia until all Liberians “realize that we rise or fall together.”
Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia is an extremely well written book and should be beneficial to teachers, students, and researchers in African studies and also American studies.