“Colonial racism is no different from any other racism.”

“Colonial racism is no different from any other racism.”
                                                                                 (Frantz Fanon. Black Skin, White Masks. P.64)

 

“For Imperialists like Balfour, or anti-imperialists like J. A. Hobson, the Oriental, like the African, is a member of a subject race and not exclusively an inhabitant of a geographical area.”

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(Edward Said. Orientalism. p.92)

 

David Herman, in an article on Edward Said in Prospect magazine published in 2003, believes that “long before most other critics in America, he {Edward Said} had discovered a new set of thinkers who had written about colonialism, race and identity – CLR James, Tagore, Fanon – and he put their insights together with the work of a later generation of postcolonial writers and theorists, including Henry Louis Gates, the Subaltern studies group, Rushdie and Marquez, Achebe and Mahfouz.”1 Indeed, Said’s theory of Orientalism has had a profound influence on many literary critics, especially African-Americans,2 who are interested in examining representations of racial difference and it continues to support their anti-racism writings and arguments in discourses of difference. The concept of “difference” is central to Henry Louis Gates’3 edited book ‘Race’, Writing, and Difference (1987) where the authors examine the idea of “race” as a category of difference in the study of literature and the shaping of critical theory, and in doing so: “they explore the dynamics of racial ,otherness’ in various modes of discourse to get at the complex interplay between representations of race and social construction of difference.”4

 

        In his introduction to his volume, “Writing “Race” and the Difference It Makes”, Henry Louis Gates, Jr questions what importance does “race” have as a meaningful category in the study of literature and shaping of critical theory. He also illustrates how race has been “written” into existence as a medium of keeping racially marked populations in subordinate positions:

The question of the place of texts written by the Other (be that odd metaphorical negation of the European defined as African, Arabic, Chinese, Latin American, Yiddish, or female authors) in the proper study of “literature,” “Western literature,” or “comparative literature” has, until recently, remained an unasked question, suspended or silenced by a discourse in which the canonical and the noncanonical stand as the ultimate opposition. In much of the thinking about the proper study of literature in this century, race has been an invisible quantity, a persistent yet implicit presence.5

 

        “Race”, Gates writes, “is the ultimate trope of difference because it is so very arbitrary in its application.” In other words, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (and arguably, throughout the present day), representations of race in literature have sought to “naturalize” and thus to legitimate the racially marked body as essentially inferior.” Moreover, “Race in these usages,” Gates argues, “pretends to be an objective term of classification, when in fact it is a dangerous trope.”6 Following from this, the role of the postcolonial critics is “to analyse the ways in which writing relates to race, how attitudes toward racial differences generate and structure literary texts by us and about us. We must determine how critical methods can effectively disclose the traces of ethnic differences in literature. But we must also understand how certain forms of difference and the languages we employ to define those supposed differences not only reinforce each other but tend to create and maintain each other.”7

 

        For “Race” has become “a tope of ultimate, irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific belief systems which more often than not-also have fundamentally opposed economic interests”, and further reflecting on the economic basis of racial oppression, Gates adopts a materialist position. “Literacy”, which Gates tries to demonstrate is “the emblem that links racial alienation with economic alienation.” In doing so: “Gates reminds us that Western imperialism institutionalized a system of chattel slavery under which slaves were denied literacy. His central argument is that slaves, denied the ‘right to write’, met exclusion from the opportunities available to literate whites,”8 and thus “Blacks and other people of color” Gates adds, “could not write”.9 Moreover, although writing is, secondary to reason, Gates says, it is nevertheless “the medium of reason’s expression” and for “Enlightenment is characterized by its foundation on man’s ability to reason”, Gates further illustrates how most of prominent Enlightenment thinkers i.e. Kant and Hegel denied Third World subjects the access to the notion of “reason” that underwrites their philosophical inquiries.10

 

        However, Gates’ aim is not so much an equality of ‘black’ and ‘white’ writing, but rather “a nuanced confrontation of the discursive modes by which ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness’ have come to be understood and defined as different.”11 Gates’ collection of essays remains a provocative overview of the complex interplay between race, writing, and difference.

In “The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race,” Appiah charts the changes in Du Bois’ ideas about race. Using the most sophisticated biological theories of race, morphology, and difference, Appiah shows how race functions in Western culture as a metonym for muddled thinking about the relation among genetics, intention, meaning, and culture. “An Ideology of Difference” by Edward Said serves as a response to Appiah’s reminder that our obsession with structure, relations, and concepts “under Saussurian hegemony” has led us to ignore or suspend “reality” (pp. 35-36). Said discusses the ideological foundations of abstract categories of Otherness which depend for their effectiveness upon fictions of a fundamental and constitutive difference.12

 

        In other words, “there is a long history of resistance to (white) theory in the (black) tradition,”13 as Gates argues. However, many scholars in the past tended to consider the postcolonial and Africa-American literary studies as two different fields of study though many leading figures in the field of African American literary studies are also identified as postcolonial critics i.e. Henry Gates, Toni Morrison, W.E.B. Do Bois, among many others. In this context, the intersection of these two fields of study; African-American and postcolonialism, is that they both “share a central goal: destabilizing racial hierarchies and exposing the linguistic and discursive modes that contribute to the perpetuation of unequal power relations. After all, discussions of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized are sometimes similar to analyses of the slave-master relation in the context of American slavery.”14 In the United States as in many postcolonial nations, pervious and current acts of discrimination and racism towards minority populations thus connect these two fields together through a joint critique of neocolonialism.15 For instance, the prominent black feminist Bell Hooks states: “I believe that black experience has been and continues to be one of internal colonialism” (148).

        In the United States and former European colonies, therefore, “slavery and racism produced a hegemonic white culture that enforced its systems and values on the non-White population, and the non-white population both obeyed and resisted those systems and values”. The history of black-white relations in the United States is, nevertheless, “quite different from that in Britain, because in the US whites imported blacks from Africa as slaves, rather than urging whites to go and settle in Africa to ‘civilize’ the indigenous peoples.”16 In this respect, Henry Louis Gates, an innovative theorist of African-American literature, philosophy, and race-relations, suggests throughout the vast scope of his critical work the possibility for postcolonial conditions within the United States.17 Gates argues that there is a strong connection between postcolonial theories and contemporary African American theories, since both examine “how a hegemonic whiteWestern culture came to dominate non-white cultures, and how the subordinated culture has reacted to and resisted domination.”18

        White racism against blacks is thus itself a form of colonial aggression. From this perspective, Henry Louise Gates and many other critics point to “the possibility for postcolonial approaches to writing in the United States. American systems of racial imbalance, segregation, and disenfranchisement, are, they suggest, every bit as “postcolonial” (perhaps even as “colonial”) as the legacies of imperial rule in developing countries. What’s more, because of its racial, religious, and cultural heterogeneity, the United States becomes a particularly volatile site of colonial contestation for political visibility and dominance. The use of postcolonial approached in analyses of US writing has been particularly productive in understanding how racial differences contributes to the construction of the American categories of nation, class and gender. Such approached lead to possible deconstructions and reconstructions of “race” as a meaningful political category.”19 In  short, Gates shows how the Colonized “other” learns to speak in a “double-­?voiced” discourse; both the language of the dominant culture and the language of the subordinated culture.20 Gates’ work centrally involves the construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction of “race” as a meaningful political category and thus his contribution into postcolonial studies is particularly distinctive for it implicates racial difference into the construction of the categories of nation, class, and gender. 21

 

        On the other side, In The Empire Writes Back the authors Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin suggest that the United States, despite its “neocolonial” position of dominance in the world, yet produces literature that is as postcolonial as the cultural traditions originating in the Third World:

So the literatures of African countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Caribbean countries, India, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Pacific Island countries, and Sri Lanka are all post-colonial literatures. The literature of the USA should also be placed in this category. Perhaps because of its current position of power, and the neo-colonizing role it has played, its post-colonial nature has not been generally recognized. But its relationship with the metropolitan centre as it evolved over the last two centuries has been paradigmatic for post-colonial literatures everywhere. (2)

1 https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/edwardsaid

2 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

3 Henry Louis Gates, Jr is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He has edited several books and has written Figures in Blood and The Signifying Monkey.

4 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

5 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343459

6 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343459

7 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343459

8 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

9 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343459

10 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

11 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

12 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343459

13 Gates Loose Canons, 75

14 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

15 https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/05/31/african-american-studies-and-postcolonialism/

16 Literary theory: a guide for the perplexed by Mary Klages

17 http://www.postcolonialweb.org/poldiscourse/gates.html

18 Literary theory: a guide for the perplexed by Mary Klages

19 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

20

21 Postcolonial literature by Justin D. Edwards (chapter two) google books

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