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Resistance vs. Acceptance

 

Resilience is cultivated by balancing the urge to resist with the need to accept one's situation, then striving to ameliorate it. How did this happen for Abdul Rahman? We see instances of resistance and acceptance throughout his long adult life.

Resistance

  • Abdul Rahman was sold to Thomas Foster as a "brute Negro," which meant that he had to endure "seasoning" once he got to Natchez. This may have been what precipitated his decision to flee.
  • Abdul Rahman says: "I tried to tell Mr Foster that I was a Prince in Africa..." He was not willing to let go of his identity easily.
  • In the documentary, we hear Mos Def say: "Abdul Rahman refused to clear the fields. Defiance, in turn, brought the whip and deepened his resentment..."
  • Abdul Rahman escapes! Clearly, this is an act of resistance!
  • When he has a chance meeting with Dr. Cox (whom he had first met many years ago in Futa Jallon, West Africa), Abdul Rahman resists temptation: he refuses Dr Cox's urging to come with him. This is resistance of another sort, verging on acceptance.
  • When Abdul Rahman finally takes advantage of the opportunity to write a letter home to Africa, biographer Terry Alford notes that it was a way of protesting the negative situation unfolding on the plantation.
  • When Abdul Rahman wins passage back to Africa for himself, he is reluctant to leave his family behind; he works to gain their release, too.
  • When Thomas Gallaudet asks Abdul Rahman to write the Lord's Prayer in Arabic, what Rahman writes is actually the Fatiha, the opening chaper of the Qur'an - a subtle act of defiance.

Acceptance

  • While chained and crammed in the  hold of a slave ship, Abdul Rahman must have accepted the situation and found ways to stay alive. That he made it to the Caribbean is significant. Terry Alford's book provides many details.
  • During the layover on the island of Dominica (in the Caribbean), Abdul Rahman clearly made a decision to "go with the flow" and survive. Terry Alford notes that he seems to have avoided the perils of infection or disease. The evidence? When he was put up for sale in New Orleans, Abdul Rahman's "dollar value as a slave was normal."
  • In the documentary, we hear Mos Def say of the African captives: "Slaveholders seasoned them as slaves, forcing them to learn English, stripping them of their customs and identities…" Abdul Rahman seems to have accepted the need to learn English, and learned the language quite well eventually, although probably only after his escape episode.
  • In the documentary, we hear Zaid Shakir say of Abdul Rahman the fugitive: "…in the wilderness, it dawned on him that he was no longer a prince..." In other words, he came to accept his situation. Author Terry Alford says of Abdul Rahman, "Someone brought up in Futa Jallon believes that…it was part of a divine plan. His resignation to the will of God was demanded."
  • After his seemingly successful escape, Abdul Rahman returns to Foster's farm, lays on floor, and puts Mrs Foster's foot on his own neck to signal submission. This is a consummate moment of acquiescence and resignation. From the point of return after escape, Abdul Rahman does whatever job Foster assigns him. Apparently, Abdul Rahman does these jobs quite well; in fact, he goes beyond what is asked of him to demonstrate effective leadership, thereby making himself indispensible. In this way, resignation gives way to amelioration.
  • Abdul Rahman decides to marry Isabella (accepting the fact that he'll never make it back to his wife and children in Africa); he goes along with a "Christian" wedding ceremony of sorts.
  • Abdul Rahman rises to a position of authority on the Foster plantation. David Dreyer says "…he wasn't made overseer; he was the de facto overseer."
  • When Abdul Rahman has a chance meeting with Dr. Cox (whom he had met in Africa decades earlier), Abdul Rahman accepts the reality of his situation, and is not tempted to violate local norms.
  • During his fund-raising tour, Abdul Rahman plays to the press, choosing not to correct misapprehensions and exaggerations regarding his biography -- such as the belief he was Moroccan -- Abdul Rahman treats exceptionality as an advantage.
  • Abdul Rahman has an opportunity to write home to Africa, but delays.
  • When he realizes that the U.S. political landscape is changing, Abdul Rahman accepts the need to depart for Africa, even though it means leaving his children and grandchildren behind; he leaves on the Harriet, as an official guest of the U.S. government.

 

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