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  • Writer's pictureEmily Amador

The inherent racism within Western literature

Literature has become more accessible than ever before. Podcasts, e-book, and physical books can be accessed in a variety of ways.

Stephen King describes the importance of reading as a writer. He believes prolificacy of reading generates supports the development of good literature:

“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in … Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.”

The books we read bear great significance in the awareness we hold. Literature has a considerable impact on our conduct, interactions with others, and culture. Thus, it is imperative we are cognizant and considerate of the perspective of voices in literature we choose to listen to. As a result of colonialism, there is so much lost origin, language, and culture. Even literature has been skewed, so it is becoming increasingly challenging to find a “pure” concept of pre-colonial peoples.

Reading about critical theories, unveil truths Black Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) have uncovered. However, BIPOC voices have largely been unrecognized. While authors and professors like Louis Tyson have re-discovered different theories including postcolonial theory, BIPOC communities have widely known these truths. This reality results because the history of the hunt will always prioritize the hunter. Further, cross culture interactions create colonial power dynamics. For example, a non-western piece of literature adapted into a Hollywood movie, raises the questions:

Where is the money flowing to?

Who has the power of the story?

Postcolonialism can be observed in virtually all aspects of life. Colonialism is ingrained in our society. Colonialist ideology is based on othering. Difference is used as an indication of inferiority. It disregards culture, language, etc. “Othering” is used to create an “us” vs. “them” relationship between the colonized and the colonizers.

Britain's response to minority communities and movements derived from the promotion of equality, applies colonialist ideology. The Berlin conference involved 14 European countries to discuss how they would divide Africa to avoid conflict amongst each other. No African representation was present. By 1914, 90% of Africna was divided by 7 European countries, with only Ethiopia and Liberia independent.

The Mau Mau uprising was a war between Kenyan and British authorities. The Bristish rounded up thousand Kenyans and detained them in camps were they were subjected to abuse and rape. The number of deaths that resulted is not quite exact but numbers range from 20,000 and 100,000. Amongst different torture and abuse, neck restraint, which was also the cause of George Floyd’s death, were used in these camps.

Figures like Karl Pearason, changed the theory of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin, by applying sociology to human development, saying that less industrialized societies and groups were less evolved and developed and in need of a white savior. This is what Rudyard Kipling refers to as, “White man’s burden.”

Britain has a fragile sense of self. They used to control a variety of territories and have authority over 27% of land-mass, which is mostly stolen through blood-shed. Threats to Britain's already fragile sense of self lead to hostility–such as protests, immigration, etc. In order to feel that they are in control they need to suppress other groups. This is where you’ll see caricatures and stereotypes of black people and other communities in the subaltern. This means that there becomes this division between white Britain or white Americans and other Britain or other Americans. This is a problem that persists, especially with islamophobia in Britain after the September 11 attacks.

Under colonialism, colonized nations were typically forced to use the colonized language. The English language is prominente in peoples formerly colonized by Britain. For some there is a merge between native language and language of the colonizer, outside English is typically employed while in the household the English Language is used, this is becoming more natural. In the novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe uses the Igbo language through proverbs and vocabulary. This is viewed as a characteristic of postcolonial literature.

Curious George is a piece of literature that romanticizes colonialism. The monkey, George, was taken from his habitat and attempted to assimilate to society, almost wanting to seamlessly blend. It can be thought of as the Man with the yellow hat being a ‘savior’ to the monkey in that he welcomes him to his home and is trying to help him in his pursuit of mimicry. In the book, George is kidnapped by the man in the Yellow hat in Africa, with his hat as a trap and takes him on a ship to America. George is forced to eat at a dinner table and eat American food, smoke a pipe, and sleep in a bed. As he fails to assimilate, he gets in trouble and in the original story was taken to a zoo.

Black Panther is a postcolonial film critique of the modern world. In the film, Wakanda, the fictional nation is at the center, and is much more technologically advanced than the United States. Wakanda is a resource rich nation and makes the audience consider what might have been if African nations were able to develop without European interference.

When one culture dominates another, members of the dominant culture will encourage mimicry amongst those that they dominate. This is used to keep authority over those they dominate, because it takes them away from their respective identity. They do not really have an identity that is fully theirs. The colonizer, however, does not want the groups that they dominate to completely assimilate because that would give those groups power; they want the subject to fail their performance of Englishness, etc. The books we read, denote that the, “western experience is universal.”

Ultimately, it is crucial to be aware of the texts you indulge in and the voices you choose to listen to. Historical amnesia is the neglect of the past to justify the present. The potential BIPOC communities will never fully be realized because of the manipulation of history.

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