There are two ways that knowledge is gained by an individual; one is through outside knowledge which is acquired by education, and by self-knowledge which is gained through experience. In all instances, complete understanding is achieved when the two aspects of outside and self-knowledge interact in a person’s intellectual and emotional levels, whereby these aspects either complement one another or cause tensions that enhance deeper thought processes. Hence, a set knowledge that may be interpreted or gained in two ways unite to form the bigger picture, so to speak, and allow an individual to form his or her own insight on a given topic. Such is the case that occurs in reading Frederick Douglass’ 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, and William Blake’s 1789 “The Little Black Boy” and 1793 “Visions of the Daughters of Albion”. Here, a unified understanding is gained by the readers pertaining to the bigotry perpetrated against races of Black African descent, originating both from the readers’ own life experiences and academic literature he or she had read.
It is a generally accepted fact that most White races of previous centuries had employed the services of Black Africans in their financial endeavors, such as in farming, production plants, and even simply as unpaid slave labor in their respective homes. In this regard, a person does not need to witness these untoward incidents firsthand in order to fully understand its implications owing to the presence of numerous literatures that narrate the Africans’ ordeals in past centuries. One of these is Frederick Douglass’ novel mentioned in the preceding paragraph, wherein his improvement from an illiterate African American into a learned individual still did not ensure him of equal treatment from the ruling White majority. Douglass had lamented on this when he stated after enduring much beating from his master Covey over petty offenses, that “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died” (Douglass 55). In this regard, it is evident that Douglass’ sentiment is parallel with the generally-held beliefs on racism, wherein the Blacks are always seen as inferiors regardless of their achievements. Thus, the excerpt from Douglass complements the already-existing self-knowledge regarding the social evils of racism, especially during the era where it is still considered legal to own human beings as mere material possessions of the Whites.
Another literary work that is accurate and complements outside knowledge and self-knowledge with the generally held beliefs on racism is William Blake’s 1793 poem, “Visions of Daughters of Albion”. This is especially true in the lines spoken by Bromion, who represents the White race: “Thy soft American plains are mine/ Stamp’d with thy signet are the swarthy children of the sun; / They are obedient, they resist not, they obey the scourge” (“Visions of Daughters of Albion” lines 20-22). In this regard, it can be said that these lines complement outside knowledge with those gained from other literature because the superior mentality of the White race during the era of slavery is explicitly shown in the said poem. More so, the use of the words ‘American plains are mine’ is parallel with how the slave masters had treated the Black race during slavery, so much so that they were even denied some of the basic forms of human rights, such as the right to express their views, to ownership, and the right to education.
However, it is also true that there are literary works that exhibit a conflict between outside knowledge and self-knowledge, such as William Blake’s 1789 poem, “The Little Black Boy”. This is especially observable in the lines spoken by a Black speaker, “I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear, / To lean in joy upon our father’s knee. / And then I’llstroke his silver hair, / And be like him and he will then love me” (“The Little Black Boy” lines 25-28). In this regard, there is a conflict between outside and self-knowledge because the lines stated narrates how an African American wishes to protect a White American from God’s wrath brought about by the Whites’ innumerable sins against the Black race. This line of argument indeed is unusual both in literature and in real-life environment, given that most of the Black’s literary works center on hatred, a deep longing for equality, and even of brutal revenge in some cases.
It is important to understand both outside knowledge and self-knowledge in order to fully achieve complete understanding on racism. The attainment of this allows a person to gain understanding not only on the sufferings that Black Americans had to endure for many centuries, but more so to discover that there are those who choose to view this social dilemma in a constructive manner. As such, while Douglass’ novel and Blake’s “Visions” have expressed the viewpoint of hatred and sadness, “The Little Black Boy” on the other hand chose to be forgiving and even aspired for a chance to love the White race. Hence, it can then be established that the central benefit that can be gained from outside and self-knowledge is the wisdom of seeing a problem from the two sides of an argument, which in the case of this paper involves the Blacks’ hatred and their desire to sow kindness in spite of experiencing many abuses during the age of slavery. [899 Words]
Blake, William. The Little Black Boy. Poetryfoundation.org, 2015. Web. 4 July 2015.
Blake, William. Visions of the Daughters of Albion. Bartleby.com, 2015. Web. 4 July 2015.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Boston: The Anti-slavery Office, 1845. Print.