Four Books for Kanye West

May 2, 2018 | M. Elwood

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Kanye West is one of my favourite performers and his music helped me, a white, Canadian librarian, think about race in a completely different way. Sometimes a few lines in a song can open your eyes to things you haven't seen before. So, his recent comments about slavery being a "choice" are upsetting. On an interview with TMZ he said, "[w]hen you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice." West has since clarified that he was referring to the psychological impact of slavery that is still felt in the black community today, however his initial statement remains problematic. 

If you're interested in learning more about slavery in North America, you may find these books enlightening:  

Hanging of angelique

The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montréal by Afua Cooper

Although Canadian slavery is rarely discussed, Marie-Joseph Angélique was a Portuguese-born slave in Montréal during the 18th century. The strong-willed Angélique fought against her servitude and was eventually tried and executed for setting a fire that destroyed much of old Montréal. Afua Cooper uses transcripts from Angélique's trial to create a picture of the horrible reality of Canadian slavery. 

Half has never been told

The Half has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of Modern American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

Baptist uses slave narratives to support his theory that the system of slavery was key to the growth of the American economy, influential on the world economy and led to the technological developments of the Industrial Revolution. 

The interesting history

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African by Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano was born in Nigeria and became a slave when he was kidnapped as a child. He was bought and sold several times by a series of ship captains. Eventually, he was purchased by an American Quaker merchant who allowed the young man to purchase his own freedom. He spent the remainder of his life in England where he worked for the abolitionist movement. 

Never caught

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

When George Washington came to Philadelphia to serve as President of the United States, he brought slaves with him. Although under Pennsylvania law, slaves were entitled to their freedom after six months' residence in the state, Washington made sure that none of his slaves ever qualified by returning them to Virginia before they reached the milestone. Ona Judge was 22 years old when she escaped to New England where she became the subject of a manhunt led by the most powerful person in the country. 

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