Race Ethnicity in the 18th Century Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2842 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Race

Racism

Race/Ethnicity in the 18th Century

A Comparative Analysis of Racism in Country Lovers and What it's Like to be a Black Girl

The practice of racism and the fight against it have been the most defining phenomena of the twentieth century. The twentieth century witnessed the end of colonialism all over the world as imperialism powers receded to their home countries. Prior to that racism was the foundation of the political policies of many western states (Lentin, 2011). Racism in the United States came to an end through the civil rights movement spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr. A few decades later, the apartheid in South Africa came to an end through the struggles of Nelson Mandela, ushering in a new era of freedom and equality for people of all races. These changes were probably the visible culmination of years of discontent with the unfairness of racist policies and attitudes that resulted in the oppression of black people at the hands of white supremacists.

Literature produced during the years preceding the civil rights movement exposes the trauma and injustice experienced by the black people because of racist prejudice. Works like Gone with the Wind and to Kill a Mockingbird are classics in this regard. Two texts selected for discussion of the theme of racism in this essay, Country Lovers by Nadine Gordimer and What it's Like to be a Black Girl by Patricia Smith, show in realist detail and a compassionate tone the daily trauma that visited the life of people, especially Black women, during that period. Both the texts have been written in the period following the civil rights movement in the United States but before the end of the Apartheid in South Africa.

A Historical Comparison

Nadine Gordimer wrote the moving short story Country Lovers in 1975. She was a white South African who sympathized with the injustice experienced by the native people who were exploited by the white people and were even denied basic rights of citizenship. Most of her work reflects her belief in the interdependence of blacks and whites in South African society (Das & Khan, 2007, p. 148). She exposes such injustice and its psychological effects on the minds and lives of the people through her characters in the story Country Lovers. The story is set during the early part of the twentieth century, a period when apartheid was widely and freely practiced and accepted as a norm. The setting is in a South African kraal, which is a farming village where the landowners are white and the laborers are black natives.

What it's Like to be a Black Girl is a sensitive and eloquent poem written by Patricia Smith in 1991. The poem depicts what goes on in the mind of a young Black girl as she experiences the pain and humiliation of racism in her day-to-day life. The poem is set in contemporary times in the United States, almost three decades after the civil rights movement and towards the end of the Apartheid in South Africa. It shows how the racial prejudices are quite firmly in place and quite apparent even to the consciousness of a nine-year-old girl.

The poem explores the ways in which racist attitudes shape the self-concept of young black children and how they try to find their place in society. Gordimer's Thebedi also goes through a similar learning process at a mature stage of her life.

Racism Explored in Country Lovers and What it's Like to be a Black Girl

Both the short story Country Lovers and the poem What it's Like to be a Black Girl explore the issue of racism and how it affects the minds and lives of young black women in racist societies that discriminate against them. Both the texts have been set in different periods and in different societies but the effect of racist attitudes and norms on both the characters are quite similar.

In Country Lovers, Gordimer narrates the story of Thebedi, in third person, who is the daughter of a black laborer on a South African farm owned by a white man and his family. Paulus, the son of the landlord, is friendly with Thebedi from early childhood and the two fall in love in their adolescence. Gordimer sketches the seamless way in which racist attitudes have been shaped into the social and cultural norms of life on the kraal. As long as they are children, white and black children can play together, but as soon as the white children are sent off to boarding school they acquire a sensibility and outlook towards life that prevents them from seeing their black playmates as equals ever again. The black children are similarly brought up with notions of being subservient to their white playmates and are taught to address them as "missus and baasie (Gordimer, 1975)"

Racism is evident even in the way work is divided on the farm and in the way the resources of the farm are distributed. Everything on the farm belongs to the white family whereas all the laborers and their families are black. Such exploitation is an accepted norm in that society and is perpetuated down to generations. According to Lowenberg and Kaempfer (1998), racism in countries like South Africa was a means of economic exploitation of blacks to obtain cheap labor. Paulus' father owns the cows but it is the job of Thebedi's father to take care of them. Paulus' father owns the farm but does not work on it. Thebedi's father and other laborers are responsible for growing the crops and harvesting them.

Both Thebedi and Paulus have learnt the racist attitudes and norms but choose to bypass them in favor of their friendship. They continue to meet in secret after Paulus returns from boarding school and exchange presents. They even make love on one occasion by the riverbed. But they have internalized the importance of maintaining the norms to uphold the social balance and harmony between the two races. This is why they hide their friendship from people in their community and even take the most drastic step of murdering their lovechild.

Towards the crisis of the story, Thebedi has lost her child by collaborating with Paulus in a plan to murder their lovechild because they cannot afford to have the secret of their love affair known to their communities.

Although it appears that the people in Thebedi's community are aware of the open secret as in when the women steal their eyes away from Paulus to avoid answering his question of the whereabouts of Thebedi, and in the passive resignation of Njabulo to the child of Thebedi who looks nothing like him, it is evident that the matter is a serious one to the white community. Paulus' father is ashamed at the end of the murder trial and says that he will try to hold his head again in the community. Thebedi has also resigned to her fate towards the end when she can only think of the relationship with Paulus as a childhood affair and nothing worth a serious thought. This shows how racist attitudes can shape the meaning people assign to relationships.

In What it's Like to be a Black Girl, Smith (1991) shows how a black girl facing racism in society tries to cope with her development into a woman and the physical and psychological changes taking place. She expresses in first person the anxieties with regard to her physical appearance and how she tries to change her natural appearance to fit into a form that is acceptable to society. For instance, she tries to put blue food coloring into her eyes to make them like the eyes of white children. She places a white mop on her head to make her hair appear lighter. She tries every possible means to "deny the reflection" in the mirror.

At the same time, the young adolescent is interpreting the changes taking place during puberty in the light of how the racist society treats her. This shapes her self-concept in a negative way and she ends up accepting her existence as a sexual creature instead of a human being.

Both the texts explore the theme of racism through the eyes of the female protagonist. In Country Lovers it is Thebedi growing up from a child into a married woman in the rural farm community. In What it's Like to be a Black Girl, the experiences of a young girl are explored as she progresses into adolescence.

Both the texts focus on the social concept of race and identity. In Country Lovers, the effects of racism on both Thebedi and her community are shown. Thebedi cannot marry the man she loves because he is a white man. She also has to be complicit in the murder of her child by his own father. Black and white children in her society cannot play together and there are even certain towns that black children can never visit. Educational opportunities are restricted for the black children while… [END OF PREVIEW]

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