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Sweat the Technique: Visible-izing Praxis Through Mimicry in Phillis Wheatley's "On Being Brought from Africa to America"

“On Being Brought from Africa to America” was written in 1768, seven years after a seven or eight-year-old Phillis Wheatley arrived to British North America. Phillis Wheatley was about fifteen-years-old when she wrote the most reviled poem in Black literature. Charged with thinking white and writing white, “On Being Brought from Africa to America” would condemn Phillis Wheatley as an imitator of the white gaze. Although accused of straightening her tongue, Phillis Wheatley did not imitate the white gaze in “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” She mimicked it. To imitate means to do something the same way. To mimic means to resemble. Resemblance lives in the liminal space between sameness and difference. This study sought to investigate what that in-between space of resemblance afforded Wheatley in terms of movement and self-actualization as an enslaved Black poet. As an inaugural text in dissemblance, “On Being Brought from Africa to America” showcased how mimicry, not imitation, could be used to undo the very Anglo- European literary practices and discourses that sought to keep Black writers at bay. This dissertation seeks to investigate how Phillis Wheatley used mimicry in “On Being Brought from Africa to America” as a subversive vehicle to say without saying. Using resemblance to hide difference, Wheatley, through mimicry, turned a sign of conquest and domination (English as representative of European imperialism) into a sign of resistance.