In the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, before the Kingdom’s captives departed for the New World to be enslaved, they were forced “to march around the ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’ six times” so that they would remember neither their home continent nor the people they were leaving behind.
By the middle of the 18th century, the British were annually shipping tens of thousands of Africans in chains from the west coast of Africa across the Atlantic Ocean, feeding their seemingly inexhaustible desire for enslaved labor to work their sugar plantations dotted across the Caribbean. For Africans forced to leave their continent and spread across the Americas as a diaspora, these voyages have frequently been referred to as the Middle Passage, a one-way journey transforming Africans into Black slaves. The irreversibility of this journey is a bedrock of the African American origin story.
The Dahomey aristocrats forced captives to sever ties with their homeland. In the same vein, contemporary Afro-pessimist intellectuals argue that the Middle Passage means that today’s Africans and members of the African diaspora have forgotten one another. Afro-pessimism is a theory developed by Black American intellectuals like Frank Wilderson, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten, which holds that the experience of racism and slavery in the Americas makes the Black American experience so unique that it cannot be compared with the suffering of other peoples.
Rendered strangers by the Middle Passage, Afro-pessimists see no shared identity that can serve as the basis for solidarity between Africans and African Americans. Historical records, however, show that occasionally, some captives, even after forcibly crossing the Atlantic, later returned to their homes in Africa as freemen.
Read the full article in Noēma Magazine.