White Men’s Magic

Vincent Wimbush

Vincent Wimbush begins the prologue with a quote by Zora Neale Huston, “Some folks is born wid they feet on de sun and they kin seek out de inside meanin’ of words.” – Mules and Men (Wimbush 2012 p. 1) Wimbush as a child, his world exploded with books and writing. He questioned his elders, questions his elders could not always answer, the hidden meaning, “coded freighted meanings,” the inside meaning of things. This began the thesis for this book; “The quest to know over time less and less about facts – not even about my world or texts at hand – and not at all about piety, but more and more about how things came to be and how such things in such arrangements persisted.” (Wimbush 2012 p. 3)

For Wimbush to understand when the peoples of the North Atlantic and the peoples they named as African to perdure (remain in existence) must come to terms with context  and its complexity of ongoing ramifications.  Wimbush explores the ex-slave writer Olaudah Equiano also known as Gustavas Vassa.  Wimbush finds a way forward through Olaundah’s story and adventure of a black hero, a person of the North Atlantic slave trading world, “that comes to call himself ‘African,’ ‘Christian,’ and almost an ‘Englishman.’” (Wimbush 2012 p. 10) Wimbush is able to see and describe his own life story to Eqiuano’s, and see them both as a type of “scriptural” story.  Through this Wimbush describes Equiano and his ancestors as Atlantic African.  It becomes a story of first contact of a peoples and the affect on both the peoples as slaves and how it was “experienced, rationalized, conceptualized and survived.” (Wimbush 2012 p. 11)

“There can be no serious self-reflection critical work apart from consideration of the meaning and consequences of such a contact.” (Wimbush 2012 p. 12)  Wimbush refers to “A Report to an Academy” a short story by Franz Kafka, written and published in 1917. (Kafka’s Ape Story) This story can be a parable or an allegory for the treatment of Jewish people or the the Atlantic African Slaves.  It is a presentation of to the Academy of an Ape and his transformation to becoming human.  To survive, the Ape, studies humans while caged on the ship, learns to speak and act like his captures. “The nature that culture uses to create second nature, the faculty to imitate, make models, explore difference, yield into becoming the other” (Wimbush 2012 p. 13)

As I read White Man’s Magic and develop a grasp for what scripturalization means, I see the quest that Olaudah Equiano and Vincent Wimbush are on, their personal marronage, or extricating oneself from slavery.  Today, a form of scripturalization, “political conservatives derive their power from mobilization of constituencies that feel deprived of their rightful share in government, and regard the cultural consensus against which they fight to be the wrong one.” (Gomes 2007 p. 59) Equiano had to take his journey of of educating himself, learn to write, and gain understanding with the “talking book” that did not include , acknowledge, remained silent, and did not speak to him, “in order to escape enslavement and orient himself to the freedom the slavery that is scriptualization,” (Wimbush 2012 p. 233) that white men’s magic resisted.  Vincent Wimbush had to take this same journey, and we also may be bonded to slavery of our own, that requires us to take the journey of marronage from scripturalization.

If we are brave enough to walk with Olaudah Equiano and Vincent Wimbush, our lives, will probably be transformed. We will grow, be stretched, and be different.  In Kafka’s “A Report to the Academy,” in this story, an ape named Red Peter, who has learned to behave like a human, presents to an academy the story of how he effected his transformation. He begins, “You show me the honor of calling upon me to submit a report to the Academy concerning my previous life as an ape. I cannot comply with your request. Almost five years separate me from my existence as an ape, a short time perhaps when measured by the calendar…This achievement would have been impossible if I had stubbornly wished to hold onto my origin, onto the memories of my youth.” (Kafka 1917)


Wimbush refers to
Plato’s, “Allegory of the Cave.” and to Kafka’s, “A Report to an Academy” The cave allegory is interesting because Plato believed that the world needed the philosophical intelligence that he and his student’s had, to guide those who were less intelligent.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave – Alex Gendler

Franz Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy”

“Kafka’s Ape” as “A Report to an Academy” is often referred to has been made into short plays. It is a metamorphosis allegory about the treatment of the Jewish peoples or racism that still exist today. Vincent Wimbush uses it as a parable of the North Atlantic slaves. Attached are two links, one a video https://vimeo.com/104816698 posted by Howard Rosenstein and the second is the text of the story,
http://www.kafka.org/index.php?aid=161 written by Kafka in 1917 and translated by Mauro Nervi Revision: 2011/01/08

Wimbush is hard to read, but I truly have enjoyed him.  To me the meaning is two-fold, one is  the way Wimbush uses it, as leadership or dominance, in country, politics, and social groups, to create and maintain power over others.  “Equiano saw more clearly the nature of ideological structure of the British society, especially its fetishistic uses of the scriptures.”  (Wimbush 2012 p. 51) The second is how to understand it and then use it as a wedge to create the change needed that sets us free from the slavery and bondage created through scripturalization.  This applies to us all.  We can use what Wimbush is trying to teach us to recognize what in the Bible’s ancient text was scripturalized to free us to see the good news of the scriptures. “Now the Bible was my only companion and comfort; I prized it much, with many thanks to God that I read it for myself, and was not tossed about or led by man’s devices and notions.” Olaudah Equiano  (Wimbush 2012 p. 180) 

I still have a lot more to learn and grasp from this.  My eyes are opened but the light is causing me to squint.  

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