Paul on Racial Consciousness in Equiano’s Narrative

Paul, Ronald. “”I Whitened My Face, That They Might Not Know Me”: Race and Identity in Olaudah Equiano’s Slave Narrative.” Journal of Black Studies 39, no. 6 (July 1, 2009): 848-864.

Portrait: Olaudah Equiano (Click image for credit)


The aim of this essay is to explore the process of racial adaptation to the image of the Other—of the “White Mask” that is adopted by the Black man—as it is revealed in one of the most famous early slave autobiographies: Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself. Over the years, critics have reiterated the historic, documentary significance of Equiano’s work. The author instead looks more critically at the contradictions in racial consciousness—alienation and identification—that Equiano’s self-portrayal tries to resolve. He also argues that Equiano’s condition of psychological dualism corresponds to what Frantz Fanon, in his seminal work Black Skin, White Masks, sees as a denial of the Black self and adoption of the false racial identity of the White Other.

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