On Being Brought from Africa to America

by Phillis Wheatley

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How does the speaker counter 18th century racist views about African Americans?

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Phillis Wheatley has angered radical black critics for her supposed inability to take a decisive stand against slavery. According to these critics, Wheatley's repeated identification with Christian beliefs and her description of Africa as a "Pagan land" did not allow her to articulate a full rejection of slavery.

Her poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America" (1773) is taken as an example of her failure to critique slavery as the first four lines make the implicit argument that being enslaved was a blessing because it enabled the speaker to be converted to Christianity. Yet, the last four olines of the poem strongly reverse the beliefs in the inferiority of African Americans and argue that they too, one day, will have the opportunity of joining "the angelic train". This means that African Americans are not the inferior creatures that whites think they are and that heaven is open to them as much as to the whites.

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