As I was reading the news today, I came across an article with a disturbing title. “A probe into the past exposes National Geographic’s racist content.” A study done by a history professor at the University of Virginia discovered the racist behavior in National Geographic’s past. As I continued to read, the author gave examples of some of the evidence the study unearthed. “A 1916 edition, for example, featured two Aboriginal people with a caption that read, ‘South Australian Blackfellows: These savages rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings'” (Dzhanova). We recently learned about Aboriginal people and how they were regarded as “children of the forest” and viewed as a wild people, and being considered “savages.” This also goes back to the beginning of the class when we learned about how early scientists attempted to use race to determine intelligence or social capacity and to distinguish which races were “superior.” National Geographic’s use of stereotypes and their tendency to portray people of color as laborers has given their once impeccable name a permanent mark. As this information comes to light, and in an attempt to make up for the century of discrimination, each issue of National Geographic this year will be part of a series on racial, ethnic and religious groups, this time portraying them correctly.
The first few chapters of A Brighter Sun allowed me to see the topics we are discussing in class personalized through the characters in the novel. In the beginning, we follow a young Indian couple, Tiger and Urmilla, as they are thrown unexpectedly into the realities of adulthood and struggle to discover what it is to be a man and a woman. On their journey, they meet a creole couple Joe and Rita and we begin to see the stereotypes discussed in class being used in fictionalized dialogue. In one instance, Rita complains to Urmilla about her aggressive husband, and asks her “Why we creole can’t live like Indian, quiet and nice?” (31) even though Urmilla knows that they share the same hostile reality. We also see racial tensions in this novel when Tiger and Urmilla’s family disapprove of their friendship with Joe and Rita, “Is only nigger friend you makeam since you come?… Indian must keep together” (47). After studying indentureship in the Caribbean, we get to experience a characterized personality of a freed man. There is a character, a drunken Indian man named Sookdeo, who had “come to India to work as an indentured labourer on the white man’s plantations” (65). Also, in class, we learned that a majority of the Chinese population in the Caribbean became shopkeepers and were known as the “perfect settlers” (Williams). There is a Chinese character called Tall Boy who owns a successful bar and shop, with which the town appears to depend upon. Reading this novel we gain a new viewpoint on the specificities of race and ethnicity in the Caribbean.
A Brighter Sun by Sam Selvon
“Stains on my Name, War in my Veins” by Brackette F. Williams
Jasmine, a novel by Bharati Mukherjee, tells the story of an Indian woman’s journey to America and her experience becoming an American. The protagonist, Jyoti (aka Jasmine, aka Jane) endures microaggressions and discovers the horrible truth of America as she realizes the country is not as welcoming as the brochures in India made it seem. In a quote from the novel, Jasmine describes how she is physically characterized in America. “They want to make me familiar. In a pinch, they’ll admit that I might look a little different, that I’m a ‘dark-haired girl’ in a naturally blond county. I have a ‘darkish complexion’ (in India, I’m ‘wheatish’)” (Mukherjee 33). Reading this novel, and especially this quote, reminded me of the tendency Americans have to classify people by skin tone and the desire to see everyone as either black or white. In India, Jasmine is seen as a lighter skinned woman, but in America they categorize her and label her “dark-skinned” and “different.” This idea was also mentioned in class when we watched the film “An Island Divided,” where the narrator Professor Gates comments, “in America all these people would be black” while walking down a street in the Dominican Republic, even though most Dominicans identify with Spain rather than Africa. It’s strange that in America we are told to “never judge a book by its cover,” yet people are still constantly classified by their physical appearances.
Mukherjee, Bharati. Jasmine. Virago Press, 2014.
Haiti & Dominican Republic. Dir. Ricardo Pollack. PBS, 2011. Kanopy. Web. 18 Feb. 2018.
One of our previous readings by the 18th century French writer François-Marie Voltaire makes a shocking allusion to Greek mythology. In a quote from the text he describes the mythological creature called a satyr, a half-man half-goat character. He states, “I do not see why their (satyrs) existence should be impossible: monsters brought forth from women are still stifled in Calabria.” In Greek mythology, satyrs were characterized as ugly, drunken, lustful nuisances. Voltaire uses the symbol of the satyr to compare mixed race human offspring with the configuration of the man-goat satyr, and also to attribute bad characteristics to mixed race individuals. He calls mixed children a “bastard race” and makes another animal comparison of a mule created when a horse and donkey procreate. It was shocking to read a “scientific” writing and see references to mythology. In the modern age, scientists would never search for evidence of their research in mythological texts because we know today that mythology was formed on oral tradition and the need of ancient societies to make sense of natural occurrences they could not explain with their limited knowledge of the world around them.