We Are Dark
One of the most tragic effects of black slavery is how it changed the slave’s perceptions of himself or herself as a person. The white man had such a strong influence on many of the slaves that they began to view themselves as inferior to the white man. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s depicts this in her poem “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrims Point” through her speaker a female slave on the run. In writing this poem, Browning target is the empathy of her reader, getting him or her to sympathize with the plight of the slave narrating the poem from a slave’s perspective. Browning uses sympathy and sentimental language to point out the wrong committed against the slaves, specifically how it skewed the slave’s perception of their value.
Having suffered at the hands of her slave masters for many years the narrator of the poem reflects that she knows God made her, but “he must have cast his work away under the feet of his white creatures.” She feels abandoned by her creator. She believes God has cast her and her fellow black slaves away because he does not care about them, allowing the race he cares for, the whites, to force the blacks into slavery because the white men are the superior race. Not only does she feel inferior to the white men, she also believes that God sees her as inferior to the whites.
At the mercy of the whites who abuse her and tell her that she is not fully human she has come to see herself and her race as lower and inferior to the whites that force them to work. Constantly being repressed by another race has changed the female slave’s perception of who she is. Mores specifically what her soul is like. From all the abuse and suppression she has suffered and witnessed at the hands of white men, she has come to believe that she is lesser than they are; that she is subhuman compared to them. She cries out, “but we who are dark, we are dark! Ah God, we have no stars! About our souls in care and cark our blackness shuts like prison bars,” showing that she believes her soul is dark. She sees herself as dirty, as if her soul is stained by darkness.
To further illustrate how the slaves are in the “white man’s violent system” which is divided by women, and black by whites she describes nature. How the bird as “little dark bird”, the frogs and streams as “dark frogs” and “dark stream ripple.” Through the use of diction, the narrator conveys to readers that in the natural world, unlike the human one, there is no dark with bad and light with good, and no discrimination between black and white people. However, since this distinction exists she cannot separate herself from this perception of being dark, not only physically, but also spiritually. She believes her soul matches the colour of her skin. She has come to accept the discrimination placed upon her by white men.
Browning through her sentimental and empathetic diction calls for her readers to understand that the damage inflicted on the black slaves was so much more than physical and that it was also psychological. For many, the slave’s perception of themselves as a people was marred until they began to see themselves through white men’s eyes.