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Racial discrimination and colonization in literature

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3306 words Published: 11th Apr 2017

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Frantz Fanon once wrote, “Colonialism hardly ever exploits the whole country. It contents itself with bringing to light the natural resources, which it extracts and exports to meet the needs of mother country’s industries, thereby allowing certain sectors of the colony to become relatively rich. But the rest of the colony follows its path of under development and poverty or at all events sinks into it more deeply.” The term “Postcolonialism” refers broadly to the ways in which race, ethnicity, culture, and human identity itself are represented in the modern era, after many colonized countries earned their independence. However, some critics use the term to refer to all culture and cultural products influenced by imperialism from the moment of colonization until today. A work by postcolonial writer attempts at describing the interactions between European nations and the people they colonized. A post colonial reading reveals the characters racism and discriminatory attitude that drives their action. A post colonial prospective presents a discourse describing an attempt of assimilation of a black man into a white society.

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One of the major characteristics of the principle of human rights is the fact that each and every human being was born free with equal rights and dignity. Hounding and favoritism of human beings based on ethnicity and race are violations that are very clearly going against this fundamental principle. Discrimination based on race can assume several forms, from the institutional discrimination and severe discrimination to other forms that are covert whereby certain ethnic and racial groups are barred from enjoying similar cultural, political, civil, economic and social rights as other classes of people in the same society. Postcolonial literature is something that cannot be bound by time. Post colonial studies especially theories cannot be made obligatory. It must be properly disseminated and assimilated before it can ever begin to address the issue of the complex cultural investment. The postcolonial literature reveals the characters racism and discriminatory attitude that drives their action. It prevails since the time of Shakespeare. Postcolonial Shakespeare for most of the people, means a little evincing an interest in the moor but there are certain specific Shakespearean text that are thought to lend themselves to post colonial reading because of their obvious engagement with the colonial issues of racial and cultural otherness. Tempest and Othello have received this status of most favored text by Shakespeare of the postcolonial label. In Othello, the postcolonial perspective presents a discourse describing an attempt of assimilation of a black man into a while society by marrying a white woman but by the end of the play the protagonist is stripped off from his white construct and is reduced back to the traditional role of a “moor”. Similarly Shakespeare’s Tempest, is considered a central work in postcolonial theory. It is thought to be, by some critics as an early postcolonial work. Many colonial theorists and critics tend to focus on the character of Caliban as their centre of discussion. According to the critics, Caliban has been tied to the west’s image of the native people often described as bizarre in their appearance. The natives according to the colonizers are dehumanized and are considered one with nature, similar to that of Caliban’s character in Shakespeare’s Tempest. His character is also easily fooled and intoxicated by the Europeans. Such is the way the colonizers perceive the natives.

It is mentioned by theorist Edward Said that the colonizers always considered themselves superior and considered the natives as “the others”. Racial discrimination has been rampant for many centuries, post colonial literature mainly focuses upon this segment in their discussion. Not only were the Europeans dominating over the natives physically but they also worked at erasing their cultural identity and their past in order to implant their own cultural customs. Racial discrimination is a theme that runs throughout postcolonial discourse, as white Europeans consistently emphasized their superiority over darker-skinned people. This was most evident in South Africa, whose policy of apartheid was institutionalized in national laws. Nadine Gordimer’s novel My Son’s Story is a brilliant example of the trials and tribulations of racially discriminated people. In her novel, Gordimer presents how a black family struggles to survive in a white dominated society. One of the main attractions of the plot is the character of Sonny. It’s his desperation to be one of the white people that sets Gordimer’s story apart from the rest. The character of Sonny has an affair with a white woman Hannah. Through this affair the mere logic of Edward Said is proven, the fact that the white masses dominated over the natives by rearranging their ideology and setting it in such a way that it perceives the white people as their superior in every sense. By Sonny’s affair with Hannah and his obsession with Shakespeare it is proved that his ideology was programmed in such a way that his attraction towards Hannah and Shakespeare are hints of him wanting to be one of the white masses.

Unlike Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, there are other novels regarding racial discrimination that present the natives as “the other” and set the white colonizers as people with superior intellect. Although ironically in each of these novel their lies a hint of destruction that is caused by this very superior intellectual group of people and it is the natives who are represented with humanity. One such work of art is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, that represents the natives from the view point of the colonizers. Although it is debated whether Conrad wrote it as a criticism to the colonizers or the natives. Heart of Darkness truly is deserving of its title name. The darkness that is emphasized in the title not only talks about the darkness of the region but the darkness that exists in the heart of the colonizers. The novel depicts some soul shattering images of the natives being tortured and chained by the colonizers. The novel beautifully narrates the plight of the natives and depicts how the colonizers viewed them. Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart is another exemplary example of colonial racial discrimination. Achebe’s novel emphasizes Edward Said’s Orientalist theories, about how the colonizers dominated over the natives by implanting the colonial ideological thinking into the natives. The plot depicts how the natives are made to give up their own culture and customs and follow the colonial way of living. Achebe depicts in his novel how the things fall apart for the natives and their colony, how the natives are driven away from their own sense of identity and individuality.

The concept of losing one’s identity has also been taken up by Derek Walcott in his poem The Sea is History. His poem talks about how the natives are clueless about their history, their roots and their identity. The poem depicts the native’s plight of not knowing their past and thus being unaware of their sense of identity. Discrimination was mainly done on the basis of colour, and one of the ways to dominate over the natives was to erase their sense of identity by dominating over their ideology. Since many of the natives culture was in form of orator and not written, it was fairly easy for the colonizers to establish their upper hand over the natives. Some other works that depicts racial discrimination are Coetzee’s novels Waiting for the Barbarians (1982), which is set in an imaginary empire not unlike South Africa, utilizes postmodern strategies and tactics to foreground their status as works of fiction, while at the same time suggesting a political posture towards a real place and policy, which is, South African apartheid. Also, Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children(1981), Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient (1992), Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961), Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place (1988), Isabelle Allende’s The House of the Spirits (1982), J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace (1990), Derek Walcott’s Omeros (1990), and Eavan Boland’s Outside History. Two essays that are worth mentioning in this particular genre are: Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin. White Masks and Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s Decolonising the mind.

“When people like me, they like me “in spite of my colour.” When they dislike me; they point out that it isn’t because of my colour. Either way, I am locked into the infernal circle.”

This line of Frantz Fanon, a French psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer, speaks about how he has been victimized by the same hard blow of hatred by white people. He believed that there is a paralytic judiciary system of whites towards the black. Franz Fanon gives utmost importance to the phenomenon of language. He said, “White men always claim to posses all knowledge of the world and believe in hallucinating black, because of their own means.”

In his book Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon talks about how black race faces the lack of judgment in society and is always abolished out of societal virtues (Fanon, 1967 ). In another book on Colour Prejudice, he begins with the duality in the behavior of a black man towards a white man and towards another black man. His opposition towards such discrimination and racist factor was so strong that it compelled other revolutionaries to take a stand against such injustice firmly.

Perceptions as far as the minorities are concerned, which specify that they are weak and inferior are usually planted in the minds of people from the majority group in their early stages of development. The minority group of people, in other words, the racially discriminated people are made to believe such perceptions by their parents, teachers and the society in which they grow in.Racism involves a set of actions or beliefs that considers an individual or a class of people to be inferior as compared to another individual or a class of people, due to their appearance physically, such as their skin color. These are perceptions that are fed in the minds of people and they usually have a lot of negative impacts on the individuals or group of people being considered to be inferior. One of the ways through which, ill-treatment and narrow mindedness against the minority can be eliminated is by reversing such unfounded perceptions. This can be done through increased awareness that all people are the same and those simple differences such as height or skin color cannot be adequate reasons for treating some people as less equals as the others and thus oppressed and exploited. The individuals that are racists are simply the product of a society that sponsors and encourages the vice in one way or another. In order to change such a society, there is need for both political and legal change to be shadowed. Politically, the interests of the minority should be well addressed and this can be done through increasing the political representation of the groups facing discrimination. Laws that are aimed at protecting the rights of the minority should be enacted so that anyone violating these rights is to be dealt with severe punishment. The minorities themselves have also a role to play in ending prejudice and discrimination against them. They should ensure that they are in the forefront in the campaign against oppression, prejudice and discrimination along racial lines.

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As African Americans’ place in today’s new age society has changed over the centuries and along with it so has the focus of African-American literature. Before theAmerican Civil War, the literature primarily consisted of memoirs by people who had escaped from slavery; the genre ofslave narrativescomprised accounts of life in slavery and the path of justice and redemption to freedom. There was an early peculiarity between the literature of freed slaves and the literature of free blacks who had been born in the North. Free blacks had to express their oppression in a dissimilar narrative form. Free blacks in the North often spoke out against slavery and racial injustices using the spiritual narrative. The spiritual addressed many of the same themes of slave narratives, but has been largely ignored in current scholarly conversation. At the turn of the 20th century, non-fiction works by authors such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington debated whether to confront or appease racist attitudes in the United States. During the American Civil Rights movement, authors such as Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks wrote about issues of racial segregation and black nationalism. Today, African-American literature has become recognized as an integral part of American literature, with books such as Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex HaleyThe Color Purple(1982) by Alice Walker, which won the Pulitzer Prize; and Beloved by Toni Morrison achieving both best-selling and award-winning status.

Bernice McFadden quoted, “Don’t you know sugar is brown first? White folks couldn’t stand the fact that something so sweet shared the same color as the people who cut the cane, slopped the hogs and picked the cotton. So they bleached it to resemble them, and now they have gone and fooled everybody. You included.” Decolonizing a person’s mind is quite difficult to do because it cannot be done. Once the natives have been colonized for certain time period the colonizers history merges with that of the natives. Aijaz Ahmed in his essay wrote that when India was colonized by the British, their language that they shared with the natives became a part of the Indian culture and if the natives wish to ignore that culture in order to decolonize their minds, they are unintentionally discarding a part of their own culture. Doing so, will not accomplish anything and it will only end up fogging the sense of identity in the natives. According to Ngugi Wa Thiongo, in his essay Decolonizing the mind he writes that,” The oppressed and the downtrodden of the earth preserve their rebelliousness: liberty from robbery. However the prevalent weapon wielded and actually daily set free by the imperialism against that combined disobedience is the cultural attack. The effect of a cultural bomb is to destroy people’s faith in their religion, in their speech, in their surroundings, in their inheritance of great efforts , in their harmony, in their capability and eventually in themselves. It makes them want to recognize with that which is furthest detached from themselves; for example, with other peoples’ languages other than their own. It makes them categorize with that which is immoral and backward-looking, all those forces which would end their own life. It even grows chain of doubts about the ethical aptness of struggle. Possibilities of success or conquest are seen as unreachable, unreasonable dreams. The intended results are despair, hopelessness and a collective death wish. Amidst this wasteland which it has created, imperialism presents itself as the restore to health and demands that the dependant sing hymns of praise with the regular refrain: ‘theft is holy’. Indeed, this refrain sums up the new statement of belief of the neo colonial bourgeoisie in many independent African states. The classes fighting against imperialism even in its neo-colonial stage and form and have to tackle this threat with the higher and more creative culture of unyielding struggle. These classes have to wield even more firmly the weapons of the struggle contained in their cultures. They have to speak the united language of struggle enclosed in each of their languages. They must discover their various tongues to sing the song: A people united can never be defeated.

We have a black president in U.S now , but does it mean that we are witnessing a post racial America ?

The answer is no. Present day America is more racially polarized .Racial violence is on the rise.

Black people can never realize their potential and goals, unless the thinking of White colonizers is reconceptualized and perceived afresh by which I mean a change in the way the White people perceive their identity vis a vis their country .This reconceptualization is something which Baldwin tries to do in The Fire Next Time. He stresses the importance of mediating one’s own identity and necessity to move away from white mediums of representation. He aims at flipping the power equations and to invert the hierarchies. Going by this vision, it is the white man who is in shackles (trapped in history), who needs to be free for the black people to be free (Baldwin, 1963 ) . Though he is offering a paradigm shift in the sense that he is offering a conception of White men in nonwhite terms, yet he does not do away with the entire idea of the white and the black.

White colonizers need to stop seeing each other through the lens of race/colour but as equals.


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