I accept…

At the end of these wee hours, my virile prayer:

 

grant me pirogue muscles on this raging sea

and the irresistible gaiety of the conch of good tidings!

Look, now I am only a man, no degradation, no spit perturbs him, now I am only a man who

accepts emptied of anger

(nothing left in his heart but immense love, which burns)

 

I accept … I accept … totally, without reservation …

my race that no ablution of hyssop mixed with lilies could purify

my race pitted with blemishes

my race a ripe grape for drunken feet

my queen of spittle and leprosy

my queen of whips and scrofula

my queen of squasma and chloasma (oh those queens I once loved in the remote gardens of spring against the illumination of all the candles of the chestnut trees!)

I accept.  I accept.

and the flogged nigger saying: “Forgive me master”

and the twenty-nine legal blows of the whip

and the four-feet-high cell

and the spiked iron-collar

and the hamstringing of my runaway audacity

and the fleur de lys flowing from the red iron into the fat of my shoulder

and Monsieur VAULTIER MAYENCOURT’S dog house where I barked six poodle months

and Monsieur BRAFIN

and Monsieur FOURNIOL

and Monsieur de la MAHAUDIERE… (73)

 

This passage brings together two of the most prominent themes of the text: that of the gruesome history of oppression and exploitation of Africans by the French colonizers, and the idea that one must accept this history if one wishes to be able to move past it.  In this excerpt, Césaire describes some of the atrocities that slaves faced at the hands of the French, including the branding of the skin, confinement to rooms akin to jail cells, the crippling of runaways and the legal beating of the disobedient.  However, he does not describe these actions with a voice of accusation.  Instead, he relates these horrors through a lens of acceptance.  He accepts that these atrocities were committed against his ancestors, and that they therefore compose a part of his own personal history and the history of his people.  It is through this acceptance that he is “emptied of anger” and made able to treat the oppressors of his predecessors with the “immense love” that now burns inside of him.  This brings up one of the central ideas of negritude: that of accepting that one is black without glorifying the past or Africa – accepting the horrors of the slave trade and colonization as an integral part of the formation of modern black identity, but not as the defining factor.  Through accepting this history, one can move past it and define oneself on one’s own terms, freeing oneself from the old colonial narrative of the “superior” white race of Europe triumphing over the “inferior” black race of Africa.  Only through accepting this history can racism be subsequently attacked and dismantled, and Césaire brings this across in this passage, portraying himself as the black man who, after accepting the past and historical narrative of colonial racism, becomes “only a man, no degradation,” with “no spit [that] perturbs him.”

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Empire and Its Contemporary Legacies