Poetry as a Direct Response to Mistreatment as Direct Route Towards Healing

“We don’t often get to visualize or grapple with complexity, with real human emotions” author Layli Long Soldier says in a recent interview expressing her discomfort with the lack of attention regarding Native American emotions (Long Soldier). As a Lakota poet, Long Soldier

Layli Long Soldier at Wesleyan University

released her collection of poems titled Whereas: Poems in 2017 in which she unearths the triumphs and extreme sufferings of being a Native American in twenty first century America. The book is filled with a variety of poetic styles, masterful short lyrics, longer narratives, prose poems, resolutions and disclaimers. In her writing, Long Soldier emphasizes the importance of her culture’s history explaining, “from historical accounts, we don’t often learn much more besides the most basic facts… Especially for our people” (Long Soldier). One of her well known poems from the book titled “Whereas” criticizes the Resolution of Apology to Native Americans and is shaped by her concerns about the lack of respect for Native history and emotion. “Whereas” follows a nonlinear prose structure that is divided into short stanzas of acute thoughts that proceeds into longer stream of consciousness paragraphs. According to Michael Wasson, at the Harvard Review,  “generously opens a doorway between the poetry of the personal and the poetry of protest” (Wasson).

 

The Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans signed in 2009 by Barack Obama sought to “offer an apology to all Native peoples on behalf of the United States” (United States Congress). In reality, however, this Apology was insincere, inappropriate and did not mend the many centuries of mistreatment the United States government and Americans imposed on Native Americans. In response to the American government’s attempt to mend relations with Native people, Long Soldier wrote poems.

From the start of colonization Europeans disregarded all respect for the valued land and resources that Native Americans lived on; they displayed greed and arrogance. This mistreatment manifested in legislation that removed, killed and forced assimilation of Native Americans. The Indian Removal act of 1830, the Sand Creek Massacre, Wounded Knee Massacre, and forced enrollment in boarding schools were all efforts to degrade Native

Trail of Tears

American culture (Pauls). Through mistreatment, Colonizers altered Native American identity diminishing Native Americans into a race of the past making it difficult for non-Natives and Natives alike to identify with Native American identity.

 

Long Soldier claims Indigenous sovereignty, through her poetry which acts as an outlet to explore her own Native American identity. Defined by scholar Dustin Tahmahkera, Indigenous sovereignty is a status the Indigenous people can acclaim (Tahmahkera 140). This acclimation is done by reclaiming certain settings and correctly representing and using traditions, ceremonies and culture of Indigenous people to redefine Indigeneity. This redefinition is different from the wests stereotype driven definition. Long Soldier reclaims these spaces through her literature. Indigenous blogger Wikler states that “sovereignty is a critical tool in the pursuit of decolonization and asserting self-determination and sovereignty” (Wikler 1). Long Soldier’s exploration of her Native identity through poetry is an act of Indigenous sovereignty. By addressing common struggles, this platform of creates a space for healing. Long Soldier reclaims Native culture through the Indigenous sovereignty found in her poetry, allowing for Natives to reconnect with their culture and thrive in a modern context.

Long Soldier’s “Whereas” opens with a descriptive scenario of a conversation discussing the insincere Apology Resolution, “Whereas a string-bean blue-eyed man leans back into a swig of beer work-weary lips at the dark bottle keeping cool in short sleeves and khakis he enters the discussion” (Long Soldier 1-2). The man is described as a typical white American, who says “well at least there was an Apology that’s all I can say” (Long Soldier 3). This statement is the basis for the narrative throughout the first half of “Whereas” as it fosters hatred within Long Soldier. By saying “at least” the man is personally accepting and allowing the American government to do the bare minimum in apologizing and recognizing past wrongdoings. The bare minimum rightfully so angers Long Soldier but also poses a challenge for her. The challenge manifests in Long Soldiers difficulty in responding to the ignorant statement as she would like to the ignorant statement. Long Soldier writes, “Whereas I struggle to confess that I didn’t want to explain anything…Whereas truthfully I wished most to kick the legs of that man’s chair out from under him” (Long Soldier 21-22). Although she longed to speak up she could only fathom physically hurting the man. She did not resort to violence, but this type of violent reaction is similar to one that a child would have. A child lacks fully developed identity similar to the lack of Native American identity Long Soldier portrays. Later in the poem Long Soldier mimics the man in a statement that aligns with Long Soldiers’ struggle with identity when she writes “whereas I can admit this also took place, yes, at least” (Long Soldier 27). She is admitting to her struggle with identity. Simultaneously, she is claiming her identity and sovereignty whether it is known or not by imitating this typical white man. This white man represents a norm of America, so by starting new lines off with the word “whereas” Long Soldier creates a direct correlation between her internal struggle and pain with Native American identity and the larger scale struggle with Native American acceptance apparent through the white man’s reaction to the Apology Resolution. By saying “at least” the White man is saying the United states apology is enough, that it is okay. This is angering to Long Soldier because it shouldn’t be enough.

The evident difference between the white man’s reaction to the Apology and the Natives reaction to the apology fuels longs’ poetry– poetry that natives can relate to. Jolene Rickard, of the Tuscarora nation writes about her hope of a stronger Native American identity by expanding the definition of Indigenous sovereignty. Native Americans can reclaim their sovereignty as long as “[Native Americans] try and retell the story from the bottom up, instead of from the top down” (Rickard 472). Long Soldier does this by using “I” to personalize the poem. As a Native writer, she is telling the story of Native people from the bottom up. “I” creates a relatability in human emotions that all people feel making her bottom up strategy more effective. By personalizing the poem Long Soldier successfully finds an outlet for her emotions. The sovereignty found in literature creates a sense of community within the Native American identity, that Rickard sees as a beam of hope for Native American people to reclaim their identity and heal their personal struggles.

Long Soldier uses her poetry to reclaim her Native American identity, inherently representing her culture in a positive light. The use of “I’’ tells the Native American experience through the eyes of a Native person. Through the eyes of Long Soldier her reaction to the Apology creates a contrast with the white man’s reaction. Rickard writes that by personalizing and exclaiming one’s own identity as a Native American it is a “distancing strategy from the West” (Rickard 472). This distancing from the West enhances Indignity.  As a form of separation, poetry represents a successful attempt of claiming Indigenous identity. This contrast decolonizes and separates western culture from Native American Culture which feeds into Native American sovereignty.  It is this separation that also creates a Native American community and connection to personal identity that Long Soldier can thrive off of. This idea of “thriving” is the idea of healing from the horrific acts committed against Native Americans in the past. With such a horrible history, the lasting trauma and mindset can only be healed by Native American identity in a modern context like Long Soldier does through her poetry.

A symbol often used in Indigenous protests

Long Soldier claims Indigenous sovereignty by utilizing the word “whereas” revealing her personal experiences and thoughts as a Native woman. The first half of the poem is constructed of relatively short lines beginning with the phrase “Whereas I…”. Broken up into their own miniature stanzas emphasizes each individual line as they are all unique reactions (Long Soldier 1). Midway through the poem there is a volta, or a turning point. Long Soldier uses a volta at the start of the second page, writing, “Whereas we ride to the airport” (Long Soldier 28). Starting the second page off with a different phrase signifies a change in subject and structure. The second page goes on to address a different everyday interaction with non-Natives in a bus signified by the change in phrasing from “Whereas I” to “Whereas we”. The word whereas followed by “we” creates a sense of collectivity between all Natives, Long Soldier is representing Native Americans as a whole in this interaction. The second half of the poem is also written in a more paragraph form which Long Soldier’s stream of consciousness, unlike the first half. A paragraph structure creates more opportunity for relatability of experience and thought process for Native Americans. There is a connection between the flow of the poem as a whole and the struggle that many Native Americans face, with the midway point of the volta. The struggle begins as personal struggle and offense, then the struggle moves into a more general and bigger problem that many Native Americans can relate to.

The flow of “Whereas” parallels the alarming struggle that Long Soldier and other Native Americans face while also providing a sense of community within this struggle. It is this struggle that Cherokee writer Daniel Heath Justice uses as a basis for his, “Letter to an Emerging Indigenous Writer”. Justice’s goal in his letter is to encourage fellow writers and all Native peoples to use writing, which he calls a gift, to represent the survival and struggle of Indigenous generations. He suggests that writing can be used to Indigenous people’s advantage, to help them heal and build a stronger community. He does this by offering up a sense of compassion in grappling with writing as a Native man. Justice’s personal empathy also boosts the importance of the writing process, declaring, “there’s magnificent power in that vulnerability, and its deserving of acknowledgment” (Justice 1). He later goes on to address the community building aspects of writing. Justice’s writing structure begins with his individual struggle and later turns into a community building experience aligning with Long Soldiers writing structure. She also well starts with her individual reaction and at the volta, changes to a broader struggle. In the second part of Justice’s letter he writes, “be the mentor you wish you had” for other writers, continuing on saying, “being kind means being critical. Criticism at its best is an act of profound generosity” (Justice 2). There is a community within Indigenous writers the Justice wants to elevate in order to help fellow writers and Indigenous people by providing mentorship and constructive criticism. By acting as a supportive and encouraging letter the letter also simultaneously claims Indigenous sovereignty by addressing a truly indigenous issue.

The letter and Long Soldier’s poem both claim their own Indigeneity by writing about solely indigenous struggles. “Whereas” represents the goals Justice has for the future of Indigenous writers. Justice hopes that more Indigenous people will write, which will provide a community of writers to criticize and mentor one another. Long Soldier on writing her poem. They both address their personal struggle with their Native American identity and then how this personal struggle is relatable to most Native Americans. There is sense of comradery between Justice and Long Soldier as writers, Justice seems to uplift and congratulate Long soldier fulfills Justice standards of an Indigenous writer. Poetry and a letter are both are great platforms on a global level because they are easily accessible. This makes the unjust treatment that Indigenous people have faces in the past and still face today known, bringing the Indigenous struggle into the 21st century.

The word “whereas” is employed differently at the end of the poem when the word it becomes personified. Towards the end of the poem the narrative shifts to address the word itself.  This is done by placing Whereas in interactions between the author and the word. Long Soldier writes, “Whereas sets the table… Whereas calls me to the table because Whereas precedes and invites” introducing the scene of a tense meal (Long Soldier 59). The now character, Whereas can be used interchangeably with the false and offensive statements in the apology. Long Soldier later responds to Whereas saying, “whereas, I have learned to exist and exist without your formality, saltshakers, plates cloth” addressing her and ability to live despite the “whereas” (Long Soldier 60). It is in these made up conversations that Long Soldier is able to again personally express her contempt with the Apology.

In an entry of 4Column, teacher at Tufts University, Matt Hooley, writes about the issue subordinate communities, with regards to Whereas.  In his review of Whereas Hooley creates links between the language used by Long Soldier and in the Apology to emphasize the power of language in poetry. Praising the book, Hooley writes, “defiance is also a practice of care” explaining the hidden power in Long Soldier poems that is often covered by the beautiful diction. He continues on using this template of hidden power to show how Whereas secretly takes some of the burden of explaining their pain Natives face. He exclaims “Whereas dismantles the implications that Native People need to reconcile themselves to the desires or regrets of the US” (Hooley 1). This furthers the importance of Lone Soldiers poetry, for herself and other Natives.

Hooley’s remark on poetry is proven in “Whereas”. As a Native writer, Long Soldier is creating poems about Native issues which are directly driven by the pain she feels, which acts as an explanation to non-Natives that Natives will now not have to explain. This is furthered in the table setting, at the table when Long Soldier tells whereas that “this has become mine, this unholding” (Long Soldier 2). The unholding she is referring she is explained earlier as having had “learned to exist and exist without your formality, saltshakers, plates cloth” (60 Long Soldier). This job is difficult, but through writing “Whereas” some of the weight is lifted off her shoulder. Both the conversation with Whereas and the poem “Whereas” as a whole both act as a way for Long Soldier to lessen the amount of pain she has, healing and claiming Indigenous sovereignty.

For Native Americans who have experiences so much pain, poetry is an ideal outlet for healing. Through the act of writing, directly addressing oppressing documents and creating a platform for relatability for other Native Americans Long Soldier claims indigenous sovereignty. This claiming is important for all Native Americans to heal from harsh past and move forward. Although this writing allows for healing, Native American issues and oppression is still occurring so it will this writing will only become increasingly important. It is writers like Long Soldier that can lead the way for their culture and communities.

 

Works Cited

Hooley, Matt. “Whereas Native Peoples, Language, and Power.”4Columns, 3 Mar. 2017, http://www.4columns.org/hooley-matt/whereas. Accessed 30 April 2018.

Long Soldier, Layli. “Whereas.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, Jan. 2017, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/91697/from-whereas. Accessed 14 April, 2018.

Long Soldier, Layli. Interview by Kaveh Akbar. Dive Dapper, 9 October, 2017, https://www.divedapper.com/interview/layli-long-soldier/. Accessed 30 April, 2018.

Pauls, Elizabeth Prine “Native American History.”Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 19 Jan.  2018, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Native-American/Native-American-history Accessed 14 April, 2018.

Rickard, Jolene. “Visualizing Sovereignty in the Time of Biometric Sensors.” South Atlantic Duke University Press 1 April 2011; 465-486, doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-1162543. Accessed 14 April, 2018.

Tahmahkera, Dustin. “Sitcom Sovereignty in Mixed Blessings.” Tribal Television, The University of North Carolina Press, 2014, 139-166. Accessed 14 April, 2018.

United States, Congress. “Text – S.J.Res.14 – Native American Apology Resolution.”Congress.gov, 6 Aug. 2009, 12345. Accessed 14 April, 2018. Accessed 14 April, 2018.

Wasson, Michael. “Whereas.” Harvard Review, 18 July 2017. http://www.harvardreview.org/?q=features/book-review/whereas. Accessed 2 May, 2018.

Wikler, Alexandra. “Indigenous Screen Sovereignty Sold Here!.” Exploring Indigenous Knowledge Systems, 31 Oct 2016, https://blogs.ubc.ca/fnis401fwikler/2016/10/31/indigenous-screen-sovereignty-sold-here/. Accessed 14 April, 2018.

 

 

Looking at Individuality in “The Ostrich” From a Multicultural Perspective

 

Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela, author of “The Ostrich”

There is a balance multiculturalism has to strike — two schools of thought in conflict with each other. Charles Taylor in his essay in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition describes them as the politics of equal dignity and the politics of difference. The former looks to being blind of difference in order to treat all equally while the other looks to recognize the uniqueness of individuals and groups. There are real dangers to falling to heavily on one side or the other. Strong identification with the politics of equal dignity can lead to a disregard of the history that has led to varying groups’ current statuses. On the other hand, too strong an emphasis on the differences in people can lead to justification of separation, as is seen with the “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” signs of the British 60s.

The U.K. has struggled with multiculturalism since their failed attempt of stopping non-white immigrants from entering the country after the passing of the 1948 Nationality Act (Rattansi 22). This didn’t stop the flood gates from opening however and employers were soon recruiting migrant workers, and, through a chain reaction, caused more migration from those who heard of the job opportunities abroad. This time was dominated by migrants from the West Indies, India, and Pakistan, but with time, the U.K. became one of the places migrants tried to go to find work and a better life. In “The Ostrich”, Sumra, who is joining her husband in London, describes what she calls a “scramble” of migrants in and from Khartoum trying to get to the Gulf, Egypt, and even Norway. Her husband Majdy says it is confirmation that there is no future back home (Aboulela 4).

 

A painting of a university in Khartoum

The artwork originally presented with “The Ostrich”

Leila Aboulela’s short story “The Ostrich” follows Sumra, a Muslim Sudanese, as she returns to her husband in England after a two month visit to her hometown of Khartoum. She and her husband share a complicated, sometimes abusive, relationship as they both struggle to assimilate to British culture and maintain their Sudanese identities. Aboulela, born in Sudan herself and the inaugural winner of the Cain Prize for African Writing, is known for “Highlighting the challenges facing Muslims in Europe” (“About Leila”). In this short story published in 1997, Sumra’s husband Majdy forces her to forgo any evidence of Muslim faith or Sudanese heritage in fear of their British neighbors seeing them as “backwards.” Written in the first person, Aboulela gives Sumra agency and a voice to share her unique Muslim Sudanese immigrant experience despite the oppressive forces around her. I would like to argue that Aboulela gives credence to the politics of difference here by respecting Sumra’s individuality even within the group of other Muslim Sudanese. She also plays a little with the politics of equal dignity by presenting the world of Khartoum as familiar rather than alien and exotic as many may have been trained to see Africa.

While meeting with English friends in their apartment, Sumra makes comments on Islam that her husband deems to be not “modern.”  When they leave, he slaps her for it. She doesn’t understand what she did wrong, and he says the English can forgive her “ugly colour, [her] thick lips and rough hair, but [she] must think modern thoughts” and it is his comments on her looks that stick with her. She stands in front of the mirror and “hate[s] the face [she] was born with” (Aboulela 5). The effect of this is extreme sympathy for Sumra’s situation. We know at this point she is pregnant. We know at this point Majdy has told her every English person who walks past their window, even the rubbish collector, is better than them. This is produced through Aboulela’s use of repetition, “Why, why” Sumra asks as Majdy slaps her again. We are confused like Sumra due to the contrast in the friendly situation of “men with kind eyes and women who like the food I cook” met with violence from her husband. The syntax of steadily longer sentences leaves us in dread. This is important and a subversion from the expected because Sumra is being punished by her husband for defending polygamy, a practice typically seen in the west as being sexist and backwards. Here Aboulela is putting us firmly on the side of Sumra in an argument the reader might usually be on the other side of. This is Aboulela showing support for the politics of difference.

In his essay described above, Taylor goes into more detail on the politics of difference and the politics of equal dignity. The former, he says, demands that all be treated equally and is “based on the idea that all humans are equally worthy of respect” (Taylor 41). The latter asks that we recognize “the unique identity of [an] individual or group, their distinctness from everyone else” (Taylor 38). The politics of equal dignity are against the politics of difference because it “violates the principle of nondiscrimination” while difference is against equal dignity because “it negates identity by forcing people into a homogenous mold that is untrue to them” (Taylor 43). This scene in “The Ostrich” is significant because Aboulela is giving a voice to Sumra, a unique individual who does not agree with what the mold of her dominant society has decided is equal. She doesn’t believe they should “condemn something that Allah had permitted” – polygamy, whereas in England, the practice would be seen as inherently unequal to the women involved.

Lindsey Zanchettin’s chapter “Articulations of Home & Muslim Identity in the Short Stories of Leila Aboulela in the Writing Africa in the Short Story collection (2013) offers a framework for examining Aboulela’s portrayal of the Muslim Sudanese woman’s experience as an immigrant in the UK. Her goal is show how Aboulela is part of a new kind of African short story – one that expresses the African experience as plural and familiar instead of singular and exotic. This ties in with Taylor’s politics of equal dignity. “The memories Sumra has of her Muslim practice in Khartoum are not alienating to non-Muslim or non-African readers” Zanchettin writes. She analyzes the ways in which Aboulela allows her characters to “ache for a place of familiarity and comfort” even when that place is otherwise considered “undesirable” (Zanchettin 42). I will analyze how this allowance ties with Taylor’s politics of equal dignity through Aboulela’s representation of Khartoum with ordinary beauty.

Aboulela does this in sentences describing Khartoum in her school days. For example, “To walk from the hostels in groups and pairs, past the young boy selling peanuts, past the closed post-office, past the neem trees with the broken benches underneath” (Aboulela 5). The effect of this is showing Khartoum as an ordinary paradise. It’s special to Sumra in her memories, but it is not special in a magical way that makes it different than London and, by extension, the Western world. She does this writing sentences

students walking to school

Aboulela doesn’t give schoolife in Khartoum special significance

that are not only fragments, but are also lengthy run-ons. There are a cluster of four sentences like this, back to back, without a subject that pull us in to Khartoum casually, like we are part of the conversation, allowing us to relate Sumra’s experiences to our own. This is significant because the politics of equal dignity want to pain all the world as equal. Sumra walked with “[j]angly earrings, teeth snapping chewing gum and kohl in [her] eyes” just like I and numerous other women (and men) have. It puts us on equal footing.

Aboulela doesn’t fall into the trap Taylor warns about though. There is subtle mention of “the broken benches” in the city. Khartoum is struggling. We see it when Sumra describes waiting for her bread ration every morning. Sumra is not treated equally in London. She lives in fear of what people might think of her after Majdy shows her the Islamophobic and racist graffiti around the city. Sumra’s individuality is respected while her home of Khartoum is presented with the same respect one would expect for the presentation of a Western city. This balance is something more writers should strive for when searching to represent multiculturalism in a society.

 

 

Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “About Leila.” Leila Aboulela, www.leila-aboulela.com/about/.

Murray, Tony. “No Reason to Doubt No Irish, No Blacks Signs.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 Oct. 2015, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/28/no-reason-to-doubt-no-irish-no-blacks-signs.

Rattansi, Ali. Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Multiculturalism. Princeton University Press, 1994.

Zanchettin, Lindsey. “Articulations of Home & Muslim Identity in the Short Stories of Leila Aboulela.” ALT 31 Writing Africa in the Short Story: African Literature Today, edited by Ernest N. Emenyonu et al., Boydell and Brewer, 2013, pp. 40–51. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt3fgmkz.8.

 

“The alienation of one’s self in exchange for British multiculturalism”

Immigrating to a new country can be terrifying. With the hand of your significant other, transitioning into a new ‘world’ should be less scary right? But what happens when you get to this new place and your spouse forces you to not only abandon every aspect that you once were but to internalize this new questionable way of thinking? “Every one of them is better than

https://www.google.com/search?q=leila+aboulela&rlz=1CASMAJ_enUS762US762&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=xBOHvuEhyidpqM%253A%252CnoY8adwRGNVnKM%252C_&usg=__keB5K2is9ulO5Lo-i7gsR6nywpI%3D&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwivxLK-jvTaAhWyc98KHQeUCXcQ_h0ItgEwCw#imgrc=xBOHvuEhyidpqM:

Author of “The Ostrich”

us” is what you’re now told by your lifetime partner (Aboulela 4). You’re now forced to internalize this concept that you must respect total strangers because their very way of being is simply just ‘better’ than you (Aboulela 4). Could you imagine your partner forcing you to alienate the very way of life that the two of you lived in unison until that very moment? When in a foreign place, one relies on their traditions and cultural norms for comfort. In Leila Aboulela’s “The Ostrich”, published by Intangible Publications in 1997, she highlights the complexity of British multiculturalism through the narrative of Sumra –  a young, female, Sudanese-born student that studies abroad in London.

 

In “The Ostrich”, Aboulela documents the journey of Sumra and her Sudanese born husband, Majdy, as they migrate from their home in Khartoum to the United Kingdom to study abroad in London. The journey of Sumra and Majdy epitomizes British multiculturalism in several aspects. Aboulela uses both the past and present recollections of Sumra to narrate her and her husband’s transition into British society. At the outset of both this narrative of Sumra and Majdy and contemporary British reality, there are acts of hate within London targeting not only Muslim immigrants but those of African descent.  Sumra recalls on occasion when Majdy would “point out the graffiti for [her] … ‘Black Bastards’ on the wall of the mosque, ‘Paki go home’ on the newsagent’s door” (Aboulela 4).

 

https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1CASMAJ_enUS762US762&biw=1200&bih=678&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=9onwWoLQH4r4_Aa1sLHwBQ&q=racism+in+the+uk&oq=racism+in+the+uk&gs_l=img.3...133176.136626.0.136929.16.13.0.3.3.0.269.1856.1j8j3.12.0....0...1c.1.64.img..1.14.1902...0j35i39k1j0i67k1j0i24k1.0.1htK0NxybD4#imgrc=vQrRWnNEAAkeHM:

British protestors against Muslim immigrants in the UK.

Within the United Kingdom, racism evidently plays an active role in the daily lives of immigrants, particularly of Muslims and of people of African descent. British sociologist, Ali Rattansi, concludes that the introduction of French legislation to ban the full veil in public, “confirms that Europe is in the grip of an ‘Islamophobia’ that is as pernicious as the anti-Semitism that engulfed Europe during the 1930s” (Rattansi 127). In Leila Aboulela’s “The Ostrich” zooms in on the complexity of British multiculturalism.

Aboulela highlights how being ‘multicultural’ in the United Kingdom is paradoxical. As both an immigrant of color and a Muslim in the United Kingdom, Aboulela emphasizes how assimilation and adaptation force immigrants to lose their sense of self. As a result of their loss of identity, these particular immigrants that make the UK ‘multicultural’ is forced to internalize racists ideologies as the process of assimilation requires them to understand and cooperate with the racial hierarchy of the UK. The short story of “The Ostrich” narrates Sumra’s opposition to assimilating and adapting to British society.

The characterization of Majdy highlights the need for immigrants in the UK to internalize racist ideologies as a survival mechanism. Evidence of Majdy’s embodiment of racist ideologies occurs through his actions when he demands his wife to remove her veil for the comfortability of everyone else in London. Sumra recalls:

 

“He dislikes if I walk a few steps behind him, what would people think, he says, that we are backward, barbaric. He sneers at the Arab women in black abayas walking behind their men. Oppressor, that’s what people would think of them. Here, they respect women, treat them as equal, we must be the same he says” (Aboulela, 2)

 

The asyndeton and alliteration of the words ‘backward’ and ‘barbaric’ highlight Majdy’s realization that the aspects of their Muslim identity will be viewed as problematic by the residents of London. The absence of conjunction between the two words used to describe Khartoum, Majdy and Sumra’s home, dramatizes the bitterness in which Majdy now feels towards it. The negative connotations of both ‘backward’ and ‘barbaric’ suggest Majdy’s opposition to the cultural way of life in which he and Sumra shared their entire lives. By ‘sneering’ at the woman in a black abaya his sudden distaste of his people and culture. In reference to his own cultural practices, Majdy speaks negatively of them, yet in contrast, he speaks highly of British culture and traditions. The use of ‘respect’ and ‘equal’ highlights Majdy’s approval of the British. By suggesting that he and Sumra ‘must be the same’ highlights that Majdy’s loss of identity in exchange for acceptance into British society. Unable to hide the physical evidence of his biological identity, Majdy relies on the erasure of the aspects of his Muslim identity in order to become less controversial for the people of Britain. He believes that the whites of the UK are inherently ‘better’ than both himself and Sumra. Majdy recognizes that in order to gain the acceptance of whites, that he and his wife must abandon their cultural and religious norms, for the sake of societal, British survival. This is why he demands that his wife not wear her veil out in public. He acknowledges the Western interpretation of the relationship between Muslim women and their veils as a sign of oppression and victimization, further adopting this concept to justify why he thought that his wife should no longer wear it.

This Western interpretation of the Muslim woman and her veil is further analyzed by Senior Lecturer at the Department of Media and Communications at the University of London, Milly Williamson. Milly Williamson published “The British Media, the Veil and the Limits of Freedom” in 2004 in the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication. Within this article, Williamson examines how Britain utilized media to present immigrants, specifically Muslims, as a threat to their national security. Williamson centers her research around the blatant Western disapproval over Islamic cultural norms such as the wearing of the veil for female Muslims. Williamson analyzes the history of the veil’s symbolism within the UK. Williamson notes that during the War on Terror, the veil was symbolic of the “oppression of Muslim women and was a sign of victimization. However, today the veil symbolizes a refusal of Western modernity and is perceived as a dangerous threat” (Williamson 65).

Williamson continues, “The veil was presented as (1) a refusal of ‘our way of life’; (2) a sign of our excessive tolerance; (3) evidence that Britain is suffering from the tyranny of a ‘culture’ imposed by a minority, and; (4) linked to the threat of terrorism. By 2000 the predominant theme was that the veil is a refusal of ‘our way of life’, which in turn was part of an erosion of the ‘British way of life’” (Williamson 66)

 

This Westernized interpretation of Muslim women and the symbolism in which the veil represents are the exact racist ideologies that have forced Majdy to abandon his cultural practices. In conjunction with this key claim, Williamson emphasizes the discomfort of the veil in terms of British society. Williamson notes that given the societal disapproval of the veil, Muslim immigrants within the UK are “perceived as a dangerous threat”, for it symbolizes ‘a refusal of Western modernity’. The fact that British society only accepts immigrants willing to modernize Westernly, is evidence that in order to assimilate into British society, one must abandon their cultural norms and customs for the sake of the UK’s comfort. As a result, Majdy urges his wife that they ‘must be like them’ (Aboulela 2). In other words, immigrants are allowed access to the UK, but they must follow the British way of life if they ever hope to fully adapt. Given this notion, Majdy links the success of his assimilation and adaptation into life in the UK by “imitat[ing British people] to prove that though [they] are Arabs and Africans [they] can be modern too” (Aboulela 2).

 

The idea of integration within British society is analyzed in Shane Brighton’s essay “British Muslims, multiculturalism and UK foreign policy: ‘integration’ and ‘cohesion’ in and beyond the state”, published in the International Affairs Journal by Blackwell Publishing Limited in 2007. Senior Lecturer of International Relations at the University of Sussex, Shane Brighton, analyzes the British attempts to use ‘integration’ to reshape multiculturalism within Britain to combat terrorism. He notes that the

 

“the idea of integration is in many ways the foundational concept within multiculturalism. It supposes a need to acknowledge and manage relations with – rather than efface- culturally distinct communities” (Brighton 5)

based off the Roy Jenkins, Home Secretary sought to make explicit in a speech to the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants in 1966. This here highlights that although the UK suggests that integration is the key to having a successful, multicultural society. Granted, the idea of integration is supposed to construct a bridge so that immigrants in the UK can easily transition into British society. However, what is failed to mention is the fact that in order to transition successfully into British society, an immigrant must obey the Westernized, modern standards. As a result, if their cultural norms and practices are oppositional to Western modernity, then they’d be viewed as a threat and further ostracized. Because of this Majdy believes that “they can forgive you for your ugly colour, your thick lips, and rough hair, but you must think modern thoughts, be like them in the inside if you can’t be from the outside” (Aboulela 5). Shane Brighton suggests that integration is the ultimate goal of multiculturalism. Within British society, in order to successfully integrate forces, it’s multicultural to abandon their cultural norms and practices in exchange for their Western modernity.

 

Within “The Ostrich”, Leila Aboulela examines the complexity of British multiculturalism by using the narration of Sumra to provide insight into multicultural immigrants transitioning into the UK.  Aboulela highlights that in order to be an 

“The Ostrich”

immigrant in the UK and to successfully adapt, a sense of their identity is loss in exchange for acceptance in society. In other words, ‘multicultural Britain’ is not technically multicultural because, in order to be accepted into British society, one must fit in by being having Western modernity.

 

 

 

Works Cited List

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, Intangible Publications, Inc., 1997

Brighton, Shane. “British Muslims, Multiculturalism and UK Foreign Policy: ‘Integration’ and ‘Cohesion’ in and beyond the State”,  Internal Affairs Journal, Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2007

Rattansi, Ali. “National Identity, Belonging and the ‘Muslim Question.’” Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford UP, 2011, pp. 119-142.

Williamson, Milly. “The British Media, the Veil and the Limits of Freedom” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, Koninklijke Brill, 2014

 

“The New Colossus” Got It Right: Immigration Makes America

Look around your classroom, office, or even the local playground, and you will find people with various heritages. Each of them has a story of how their family came to America. To that end, immigrants are the foundations of our communities and should be respected as having critical roles in society. With potential changes to United States immigration policies, people need to remember America’s historic relationship with immigrants. Emma Lazarus, a prominent defender of immigration, read her poem, “The New Colossus” in 1883 for a Statue of Liberty fundraiser (Taubenfield). “The New Colossus” is a Petrarchan sonnet, with an octave about the physical features of the statue, followed by a sestet in which the statue is personified to verbally welcome people to America. 16 years after the Statue of Liberty was erected, the poem was placed on its base (Taubenfield). Since then, “The New Colossus” and the Statue of Liberty have become famous pro-immigration symbols.

 

Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus

In the 19th century, Lazarus wrote her poem while surrounded by news of Russian pogroms that were targeting Jews (Taubenfield). Furthermore, nativists were advocating for immigration restrictions such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbid the entrance of Chinese people who could not demonstrate an advanced skill set (“Chinese”). Today, “The New Colossus” is understood as a poem that welcomes immigrants because it depicts America as a place of security. Modern-day changes to immigration policies have caused many Americans to reference the Statue of Liberty and “The New Colossus” as historic pieces of American identity that require us to support immigration. One of President Donald Trump’s changes to immigration policies include ending Honduran migrants temporary protected statuses. Temporary protected statuses grant temporary residence to people from other countries during times of crisis. These migrants, any of whom came to America in the 1990s, built new lives and have few, if any, remaining connections in Honduras. Now, they are being forced to leave America (Jordan). Another tense immigration policy is the Deferred

Defending DACA

Defending DACA

Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is a program that protects children who came here illegally but grew up to regard America as home. Currently, DACA is still in effect, but there are heated debates over its constitutionality. Additionally, in an attempt to prevent future immigrants from entering the country illegally, Trump’s changes will increase restrictions along the southern U.S. border (Sorkin).

 

 

As America moves forward creating, challenging or supporting immigration policies, it is important to distinguish that, originally, the Statue of Liberty was built to praise the American political system, a system that represents the opinions of all.”The New Colossus” and Statue

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

of Liberty are constant reminders that America has a reputation as a place to which immigrants can come for better lives, citizenship, and representation. Through the poem, the statue is depicted as a maternal figure who cares for immigrants. This has, therefore, historically depicted America as a place of refuge. America’s policies should continue to reflect that continuously welcoming nature towards immigrants. To that extent, it is important to understand that the meaning of Lazarus’s poem fits in with the mission of America, a place people can come to for new starts and equal opportunities.

 

 

 

In the first octave of her poem, Lazarus describes the statue’s welcoming, motherly nature. She writes, “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame / Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name / Mother of Exiles” (Lazarus 4-6). By using a metaphor to compare the statue to a mother, Lazarus arouses notions of support, unconditional love, and strength. The statue’s love and strength are directed towards immigrants. Furthermore, the term “exiles” illustrates that the immigrants are unwanted in their homeplace. Perhaps they have different religious beliefs or customs which make them feel “homeless” in their native country (Lazarus 13). The immigrants are “tired…poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” so they have left behind their old lives to seek asylum in the US (Lazarus 10-11). Additionally, the term “Mother of Exiles” is capitalized. By making it a proper noun, Lazarus gives the statue an official authoritative role. This role makes her—and the America she represents—responsible for immigrants.

 

The Guardian’s 2017 project, “Huddled Masses? Losers? Trump v the Statue of Liberty,” features Rita Dove’s modern-day interpretation of “The New Colossus.” Writing from Lazarus’s point-of-view, Dove’s poem, entitled “Lady Freedom Among Us,” describes Lady Liberty. It says she “[fit] her hair under a hand-me-down cap / and spruced it up with feathers and stars” (Dove 12-13). By comparing Lady Liberty’s crown to a “hand-me-down cap” under which she tucks her hair so that it is not in the way, Dove suggests that the Statue of Liberty is hardworking and ambitious. Furthermore, this connects with the stereotypical “American Dream,” in which an immigrant can come to America and work hard to produce a better, more“spruced” up life.

 

Therefore, Dove believes that the modern-day Statue of Liberty—whose picture arouses American pride—has been glamorized without consideration for her true meaning. Dove suggests that the statue has become a form of propaganda, from which the population recognizes her crown without noticing the hard work that helped her achieve it. People do not consider the “hand-me-down cap” that it once was when it welcomed boatloads of people to Ellis Island. The statue must be revalued as a constant reminder that America cannot become complacent with how many people have already immigrated. Rather, America must work to

Statue of Liberty's Crown

Statue of Liberty’s Crown

preserve its reputation as a place where people can come, work hard for better lives, and “spruce up” their “hand-me-down caps.” In order for America to preserve this reputation, however, it is imperative that the country creates policies that advance immigration.

 

 

 

In the present tense, Lazarus writes that the statue’s name is “Mother of Exiles.” Her protective instinct towards immigrants is not something of the past but is an unchanging characteristic. Therefore, Americans need to think critically about how our modern society treats immigrants. The statue cannot be a “Mother of Exiles” who died and is no longer relevant, but must still be “Mother of Exiles,” in every present action we take. We must work to ensure that immigrants still feel welcomed. By ending the temporary protected statuses among immigrants, America does not make them feel welcomed but insinuates that they are irrelevant. Furthermore, considering that many people immigrate to the U.S. because they are “yearning to breathe free” and live in a democratic society, it appears that the Statue of Liberty should be a direct statement of hospitality. The “exiles” Lazarus refers to in her poem need to be welcomed in modern America. Acting as their “Mother,” the statue cannot be taken out of context and considered a simple, historic piece of propaganda. She is a call to action, a reminder that America’s glory is that it has and will continue to be a place where people can come with dreams of better lives.

 

Charles Taylor’s Multiculturalism

Charles Taylor’s Multiculturalism

In order to create a society in which all people are respected, and where immigrants are considered insiders, our country must adopt multicultural policies of universalism and difference, as described in Charles Taylor’s Multiculturalism essay, “The Politics of Recognition” (1994). Taylor describes multiculturalism as a balance between the politics of universalism, which is “the equalization of rights and entitlements,” and the politics of difference, that “everyone should be recognized for his or her unique identity” (37-38). In order for immigrants to be fully welcomed into American society, they must have the same “rights and entitlements” as other citizens. This means that they, like everyone, must follow laws. Nevertheless, America’s current immigration policies do not acknowledge immigrants’ “unique identit[ies],” and must, therefore, be changed. For instance, if people are “tempest-tossed” and striving to find a safer, more democratic society, America has a moral imperative to prioritize their immigration status. Otherwise, these immigrants will be left “homeless” and in danger as they await the belated results of their applications (Lazarus 13).

 

Roberto Suro’s 2009 New York Times article, “The Statue of Liberty’s Real Stand” attempts to differentiate Lazarus’s poem from the original meaning of the Statue of Liberty. To Suro, the statue was erected to represent “U.S. political values as a force for the betterment of humanity” (Suro). Suro goes on to argue that had the statue been erected anywhere other than Ellis Island, “no one would associate it with immigration.” From Suro’s point-of-view, the statue does not represent a “mighty woman with a torch” defending immigrants as she would her children (Lazarus 4). Rather, Suro argues that the statue is exclusively a pro-democracy piece of propaganda that does not dabble in the realm of immigration.

 

However, analyzing the statue within the framework of the political system, readers must consider democracy’s perspective on immigration. America’s democracy was founded by people who came to seek independence from England. They formed a government specifically to voice the opinions of those who had been marginalized. America must not shut its doors on modern-day immigrants seeking that same liberty and representation. Even in the 19th century when Lazarus wrote the poem, she was advocating for the Chinese who were coming to America to work on the transcontinental railroad and the Jewish refugees who were seeking religious freedom (Taubenfield). Near the end of “The New Colossus,” the statue is personified to criticize Europe. She states, “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” (Lazarus 9). Criticizing the “ancient lands” of Europe, Lazarus specifically highlights that America was established to have a unique form of government. America’s democracy was meant to voice the opinions of the unrepresented. Thus, Lazarus simultaneously praises America’s government and reveals that, because immigrants are often seeking better representation and “world-wide welcome,” the government’s mission includes fixing immigration policies to be more welcoming (Lazarus 7).

 

Immigration Protest

Immigration Protest

Additionally, Aviva Taubenfield’s journal article, “The Real American Has Not Yet Arrived,” from A New Literary History of America (2009), agrees that the statue applauds America’s democracy, while it simultaneously advances immigration. Taubenfield highlights that America’s democracy was created to represent the country’s “popular will,” which includes the wills of citizens who are marginalized. To that end, future immigration policies should respect the roles of citizens who immigrated in the past and look with ambition towards future immigrants (who are potential citizens). Taubenfield goes on to describe how Lazarus’s poem sheds a positive light on immigration:

Yearning freedom seekers and wretched refuse; homeless, tempest-tossed and exiles—the contradictory perceptions and experiences of the émigrés captured in Lazarus’s poem reveal the persistent complexities of immigration, Americanization, and national and self-definition, preserving them in bronze, literally just below the surface of Lady Liberty. (Taubenfield)

To Taubenfield, immigrants and America’s identity are just as important as the Statue of Liberty, all of which are put together and “preserved… in bronze.” Uniting the immigrants, national identity and statue itself “just below the surface of Lady Liberty,” Taubenfield reveals that America can only be satisfied when it creates a culture that continuously recognizes the value of immigration.

 

In conclusion, “The New Colossus” suggests that American multiculturalism should be a unique model that balances equal respect for all people, with respect for their individual heritages. This is by no means easy because top-down governmental policies struggle to appropriately deal with individual peoples and their situations. Nevertheless, the government must bear in mind that, while it may need to revise immigration policies, America must always be a country for immigrants. Ali Rattansi analyzes multiculturalism and how different countries attempt to bridge the gap between peoples of different cultures. In his book, Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction (2011), Rattansi challenges nativist ideas, stating, “immigrants… have too often been blamed for the overall national cultural fragmentation and changes to

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

national identity and the inner urban unemployment” (144). Regardless of the policies America enacts as it moves forward, lawmakers and citizens must take heed not to blame problems on immigrants, but to see immigration as a crucial part of America’s history and reputation. Lazarus had it right when she said America should be a country for the “tired… poor… huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (Lazarus 10-11). We must always remain a country of immigrants, for immigrants.

 

 

 

Works Cited

“Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882.” Teaching with Documents: Using Primary Sources From the National Archives, Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989, pp. 82-85. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/. Accessed 2 May 2018.

Dove, Rita. “Lady Freedom Among US.” Guardian. “Huddled Masses? Losers? Trump v the Statue of Liberty,” https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2017/aug/10/the-new-colossus-emma-lazarus-poems-donald-trump-immigration#top. Accessed 4 May 2018.

Jordan, Miriam. “Trump Administration Ends Protected Status for Thousands of Hondurans.” New York Times, 4 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/04/us/honduras-temporary-protected-status.html. Accessed 7 May 2018.

Lazarus, Emma. “The New Colossus.” National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 2 November 1883, https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm. Accessed 3 May 2018.

Rattansi, Ali. Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. New York, Oxford UP, 2011.

Sorkin, Amy Davidson. “Does Donald Trump Understand What DACA Means?” New Yorker, 7 May 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/05/14/does-donald-trump-understand-what-daca-means. Accessed 7 May 2018.

Suro, Roberto. “The Statue of Liberty’s Real Stand.” The New York Times, 5 July 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070201737.html. Accessed 14 April 2018.

Taubenfeld, Aviva. “The Real American Has Not Yet Arrived.” A New Literary History of America, Greil Marcus, and Werner Sollors, Harvard U P, 1st edition, 2009. Credo Reference, http://envoy.dickinson.edu:2048/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/harvardhoa/1903_may_5_emma_lazarus_s_new_colossus_is_affixed_to_the_statue_of_liberty/0?institutionId=2613. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018.

Taylor, Charles. “The Politics of Recognition.” Multiculturalism, edited by Amy Gutmann, Princeton UP, 1994, pp. 25-73.

 

The Cost of Assimilation: How Past Life and Identity Are Impacted by Migration

"The Ostrich" by Leila Aboulela

“The Ostrich”

“The Ostrich” is a short story written in 1997 by Cairo-born author Leila Aboulela. The text surrounds the idea of adapting to living in a new and unfamiliar environment after immigrating, and also deeply touches upon how this affects relationships. The story is centered on a married couple, Majdy and Sumra, and is narrated by Sumra, as she centers on her experience of immigrating from Khartoum, Sudan to London, England. Throughout the work, Sumra speaks of her social, physical, and mental experiences of immigration in a nonlinear narrative structure along a fragmented, blurred line of time and reality. Expressing her story through vignettes from her life in Khartoum, she portrays reactions and feelings of family members towards her choices based on assimilation. Sumra holds onto her memories of Sudan, constantly referring back to them throughout her work as she moves from the present to the past as her thoughts naturally progress. This leads to disagreements between her and her husband as he desires to be accepted in their new society, and is willing to let go of his past and identity to let this happen, while Sumra refuses to let go of her memories and homeland.

Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela

Historically, Britain is a country that has attempted to become a monoculture, which was made clear when they left the Soviet Union, wishing for a primarily white race to exist in the country. However, mass immigration has made this impossible and has led to a range of public reactions to immigrants, especially Muslims. In turn, immigrants have been pushed to assimilate into the British national identity, which is essentially white and Christian. In “The Ostrich,” Aboulela uses the character Majdy to represent those individuals who attempt to assimilate, motivated by fear of what may happen if they fail to, juxtaposing this to Sumra, who refuses to let her identity be reshaped by their new homeland, no matter the consequences. She demonstrates this oppositional relationship through Majdy’s consistent placing of London against Khartoum and Sumra’s aligning of Majdy to assimilation through connection of his reshaped identity to that of the British national identity. Majdy also conveys his understanding of hegemonic power dynamics in his new country through his use the word “forgive” to force his wife to assimilate.

Sumra links her identity to their homeland, Khartoum, while Majdy only acknowledges his homeland in an unfavorable, hostile manner. Whenever he mentions Khartoum, he speaks negatively of the place, appositionally stating positive aspects of London. For example, while speaking to his wife and remembering Khartoum, he shows no regret after leaving, asserting, “I can’t imagine I could go back…to the…books in the library that are years old, computers that don’t have electricity” (Aboulela 3). In these phrases, Majdy is explicitly pointing out uncontemporary aspects of his homeland, even rejecting the idea of ever returning. These observations also convey the idea that male immigrants are expected to eagerly assimilate while females cling to their homeland.

Aboulela utilizes Sumra and Majdy’s relationship to explore gender dynamics and assimilation by use of abstract diction. The narrator, Sumra, discusses her husband, Majdy, in a manner which implicitly reveals not only her true feelings towards him, but also her feelings towards assimilation, “I…must bear the weight of his arm around my shoulder, another gesture he had decided to imitate to prove that though we are Arabs…we can be modern too” (3). In this sentence, a pragmatic tone is used in juxtaposition with the words “imitate,” “prove,” and “modern,” which in this context are all directly connected with the term assimilation. By associating himself with London through cultural integration, which he places in opposition with Khartoum, Majdy implies that the negative attributes he ascribes to his homeland are also traits that he attributes to Sumra.

British and SU flagIn his essay, “Celebrating British multiculturalism, lamenting England/Britain’s past,” JackBlack writes a history of the United Kingdom through public reactions to displays of multiculturalism, arguing that the “white past, multicultural present” of the U.K. has served to construct present-day anxieties that exist in British multiculturalism, immigration, and national identity (Black 788). He continues to write that “a sense of loss and a lack of national distinctiveness has been found to underscore accounts of English/British identity” because “unprecedented waves of mass immigration…challenged our identity as a people” (791, 794). As such, Black continues to explain that “As a consequence, a ‘sense of loss…linked to the actions or presence of “other” groups who [have] threatened established identities, traditions and ways of life’ has coalesced with a ‘revamped Englishness’” essentially meaning a desire to return to the U.K.’s white, Christian past and to exclude other religious and ethnic backgrounds (Skey and Maguire qtd in Black 878). This hegemony of British national identity is what Majdy responds to so intensely. Majdy is persistent on assimilating and forcing his wife to assimilate because he is aware that he does not fit this white, Christian British identity. He has entered a land in which he is subordinate, and is targeted by the dominant, who long for a monoculture. In order to shield himself and become less of a target, he must assimilate.

Majdy uses conformity as a defense mechanism and a means of survival, at the expense of his memories and connection to his homeland, which he articulates through his syntax and diction. As a part of this apparatus, he attempts to protect his wife, in a manner which does not appear protective. This can be seen in an incident that occurs when Sumra and Majdy are eating dinner with their British friends, and Sumra mentions polygamy in a casual, accepting manner. In response to her statements at dinner, Majdy slaps her once their guests leave and states, “They can forgive you for your ugly colour, your thick lips and rough hair, but you must think modern thoughts, be like them in the inside if you can’t be from the outside” (Aboulela 5). In this statement, Majdy, critiquing his wife based on her actions as well as her looks, shows that he is being assimilated and as his identity is shifting, he is subconsciously adopting the mindset of his oppressors. Majdy, states a list of negative traits that he attributes to his wife in order to criticize her, as well as explain to her that her physical characteristics are not accepted in this country.

Moreover, Majdy’s use of the word “forgive” indicates that, in his mind, Sumra has done something wrong, in the case, not being white, as he describes to her, “your ugly colour, your thick lips and rough hair.” He implies that her physical appearance is something requiring forgiveness, which he believes can be won by thinking “modern thoughts” and trying to be British “on the inside if you can’t be from the outside.” In addition, Majdy’s juxtaposition of the pronouns “you” and “them” further extends his dislike of his home culture, and respect for the American culture. Not only is Majdy aligning himself with British notions of beauty and racist ways of thinking, but he also rejects Sumra’s cultural openness with sexuality through his abusive response to her accepting attitude towards polygamy. His rejection of polygamy and Sumra’s casual acceptance of it aligns Majdy with more orthodox Christian beliefs regarding sex and sexuality, further aligning himself with the tenants of monocultures that Black examines.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall

In his lecture entitled, “The Multicultural Question,” Britain’s leading multicultural theorist, Stuart Hall, considers the idea of Muslim presence as being a threat to white hegemony in the U.K.. In order to contextualize this argument, he provides historical background, claiming that the origin of interethnic conflict lies in “the break-up of the Soviet Union…which has precipitated [a] wave of small societies seeking independent nationhood” (Hall 3). He continues to explain that these societies yearn for “an ethnically cleansed nation-state,” meaning that countries left the S.U. in an attempt to become a monoculture (3). Hall explains the consequences of ethnic-cleansing, discussing the issues that arise when immigrants arrive in a nation in which they are not welcomed. When entering this kind of sphere, immigrants “disguise themselves within the culture” according to “the British way of life” which is white and Christian (13, 15). These definitions assist greatly in unpacking actions and viewpoints of characters in “The Ostrich.”

From the second Sumra and Majdy leave the airport and enter British society, they face hegemonic standards as well as unfamiliar modes of living. Citizens of this new country expect immigrants to recognize that there is one hegemonic culture in this nation, and that unless they act like the dominant group in all aspects—physically, socially, and mentally—then they are threatening “the British way of life.” In fact, their very presence in the country is viewed as threatening as Majdy and Sumra observe targeting, offensive graffiti on communal structures saying, “‘Black Bastards’ on the wall of the mosque,” and “‘Paki go home’ on the newsagent’s door” (Aboulela 5). These racist, condemning messages contribute to identities being suppressed, as indicated by Majdy’s loss of identity, and also lead to Sumra’s identity remaining intact, at the expense of the spirit and ease she experienced in her homeland.

Graffiti in England, "Muslims out"

In her article, “Where the Heart Is: The Concept of ‘Home’ in Leila Aboulela’s Short Fiction,” Eiman El-Nour discusses multiple works written by Aboulela, and relates these works to the concepts of home and belonging. She compares and contrasts themes that are prevalent within Aboulela’s works, and also evaluates characters in these works. Specifically, she points out the contrast between males and females, explaining by what means these genders tend to hold onto their identity, or do not, amid confrontation. El-Nour analyzes “The Ostrich” and highlights the theme of nostalgia writing, “The cold faraway land instils in the souls of her characters memories of the warm and familiar past life” (El-Nour 11). El-Nour understands the root of nostalgia as being the distance an individual is physically situated from their homeland. In addition, the contrasting connotations of the words “cold” and “warm” brings in a factor of comfortability. Sumra is unable to be comfortable in London because it is not “warm and familiar” like her homeland, but rather “cold.” In contrast, El-Nour justifies Majdy’s “fascination with the west and apparent rejection of home” by explaining that he was not entirely “devoid of a sense of longing” for Khartoum (11). This is indicated by Majdy’s mocking tone that he employs towards Sumra when she brings him back food from their homeland, as he states, “from the land of famine you bring me food” (11). This statement, revealing a desire for food from his homeland, indicates that he longs for Khartoum, while his jeering tone masks his desire, making it appear sarcastic and not as emotionally driven as Sumra.

In addition to nostalgia, El-Nour analyzes faith as a “tool of empowerment in the lives of the young female characters” (12). Particularly, she centers on how Sumra “clings to her faith for solace and sustenance” (12). Sumra tries to take control of her own life, and as a consequence, she is “offer[ed] a type of freedom” in which she is her “own master in the absence of the patriarchal society back home” (13). For example, in “The Ostrich,” after her husband mentally abuses her through comments about her appearance, Sumra turns to her faith for comfort and support. As Aboulela writes, “I would stand in front of the mirror and Allah forgive me, hate the face I was born with” (Aboulela 5). Her use of the word “forgive” while Sumra speaks to Allah, a being whom she sees as her creator, is powerful in the sense that Sumra is literally telling this force to forgive her and to “hate” the face she was born with, the one which he shaped. She is attempting to convince the one other being she can talk to other than Majdy, to assimilate, and accept the hegemonic standards, just as Majdy is attempting to persuade Sumra to believe that her looks are something for which she should feel guilt.

Aboulela’s short story, “The Ostrich” speaks to the realities of Sudanese migrants leaving their homeland in search of a better life overseas. In this journey, characters are not welcomed and live in a state of exile as they are unable to feel at home in this new, hostile country. Aboulela uses abstract diction to denote emotions that are experienced in this new country as well as the conditions migrants face upon arrival. She does not explicitly list aspects of British culture which result in these conditions and feelings, but instead, uses her characters to represent those individuals who attempt to assimilate, motivated by fear, in juxtaposition to those who refuse to let their identity be reshaped by their new homeland. Through scenes and events which take place throughout the story, the British national identity is identified, and hegemonic power dynamics which exist in England serve to explain the mistreatment of migrants. These hegemonic influences have the power to intimidate and threaten immigrants to the extent that their identities may become sensitive to change, causing those individuals to begin internalizing the cultural practices which surround them.

OpEd

Works Cited

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible, Intangible Publications, Inc., 1997,                                             www.intangible.org/Acrobat/LeilaPDF/Ostrich.pdf.

Black, Jack. “Celebrating British Multiculturalism, Lamenting England/Britain’s past.” Nations & Nationalism, vol. 22, no. 4, Oct. 2016, pp. 786-802. EBSCOhost,       doi:10.1111/nana.12164.

Hall, Stuart. “The Multicultural Question.” The Political Economy Research Centre Annual             Lecture. Firth Hall, Sheffield. 4 May 2000. Web.             https://lms.dickinson.edu/pluginfile.php/1096311/mod_resource/content/0/Hall_MCQsEx   cerpt.pdf

Nour, Eiman El- and Leila Aboulela. “Where the Heart Is: The Concept of ‘Home’ in Leila Aboulela’s Short Fiction.” Cross-Cultural Communication, vol. 12, no. ix, 2016, pp. 10-           15. EBSCOhost, envoy.dickinson.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=Ich&AN=ICHA1004264&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Cole Storm, A Disruption of the American Way

Windows have been SHATTERED! Doors UNHINGED! And musical communities nationwide are decrypting the profoundly effusive lyrics of J-Cole’s fifth studio album K.O.D (2018). Cole –as he’s affectionately called by fans—is no stranger to challenging unjust forms of power. His music gravitates around markers of the united state’s modernity: police violence, anti-Blackness, anti- Islam, and terrorism. Cole’s music always interrogates THIS country’s refusal to accept differences. A nation whose skeleton grows from the consumption of cultural, religious, linguistic, and cuisine diversity; yet its stakeholders are denied life. These socio-political issues and histories unfold and converge in Cole’s 2017 No. 1 single “High fImage of J-Cole or Hours.”

It’s BRILLANCE laced with MAGIC!

Dreamville residents (those fans who inhabit Cole’s sonic sphere) mark “High for Hours” as a signifier of the personal and cultural unpacking performed in K.O.D. In “High for Hours” Cole—per usual—links the Black individual to his questioning of the united state’s rhetoric of multicultural acceptance. In 4mins and 15 sec., three lofty verses and a hook that insinuates suicidal ideation, Cole grapples with questions of self, citizenship, democracy, religion, hypocrisy and violence. Nonetheless, it is Cole’s grounding of self within the Black experience of the “Ville” that is of interest to me. Cole locates himself—his individual self— as a member of the wider Black community and he uses his insider status to abort the misconception of the united states as a multicultural nation. Cole’s use of “we” in the middle of verse one and his opening parsing of u.s hypocrisy, are germane to this OpEd. By isolating my analysis to verse one, the first nineteen lines, and out of that the first nine lines—which will be examined last— and the last four lines—which will be examined first— I will offer a robust and concentrated examination of Cole’s situating of self within a collective Black identity that assists in his repudiating of the United State’s Multicultural Ideal.

             ­____________________________

  1. American hypocrisy, oh, let me count the ways
  2. They came here seekin’ freedom
  3. Then they end up ownin’ slaves
  4. Justified it usin’ Christianity which saves
  5. Religion don’t mean shit, there’s too much ego in the way
  6. That’s why ISIS is a crisis
  7. But in reality this country do the same shit
  8. Take a life and call it righteous
  9. Remember when Bin Laden got killed, supposedly?
  10. ————————————————————–15.
  11. For real? I thought this was “Thou shalt not kill”
  12. But police still lettin’ off on niggas in the Ville
  13. Claimin’ that he reached for a gun
  14. They really think we dumb and go a death wish

         _____________________________­­

Anthony Appiah, in hiscomment in Charles Taylor’s Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (1994), underscores the importance of identity, authenticity, and survival in the quest for public recognition in a multicultural nation. However, Appiah critiques “the multicultural West” for their refusal to treat “certain individuals…with equal dignity” (161). And Appiah is concerned with how these “certain individuals” occupy problematically fixed identity categories. But Appiah’s conception of “each person’s individual identity” as having a “collective dimension” and a “personal dimension” demands parsing and application (151).

One factor that binds the above “dimensions” are social scripts: a way-of-being that is associated with specific identity groups. Appiah says “demanding respect for [Black people] …requires that there are some scripts that go with being [Black]” (162). Yes! there are intragroup scripts that make attempts at a uniformed Black identity, which Appiah denounces. However, Cole reveals the external readings of Blackness which too informs the Black existence. Cole would agree that “[Black] identity is centrally shaped by American society and institutions; it cannot be seen as constructed solely within [Black] communities” that is why his critique is unrelenting (155). Line 18 represents the Black script assigned by systems of law-and-order. These systems view Black people as dysfunctional and requiring correction. 19th century white planters created the Black pathology trope as a mechanism of control and a justification for enslavement. They argued that enslaved persons were unable to provide for themselves and required 24/7 monitoring. Like all unchecked behaviors, the idea of Black people as inherently pathological—or troublesome—persisted into the 20th and 21st centuries. And Cole is challenging that delusion.

The words “claimin’,” “he,” and “gun” are vital to Cole’s criticism. Claimin’, a shortened form of Claiming implies an assertion that something is true has occurred, and typically, the claimant is unyielding in their belief. However, a claim is often unprovable; it is mere speculation that has no solid foundation. Thus, Cole suggests the claim requires dubious consideration. And if hesitant consideration is required then the claim should be dismissed.  Next, Cole uses the masculine pronoun “he” which privileges Black male victimization by these unsound claims. Cole’s use of “he” here connects to his later use of “we” (19) which situates him as member of the community of Black men harassed. For Cole, cops’ CLAIMS that a Black man/boy—often interchanged in media coverage on instances of police violence— attempted to grab a “gun” is illogical. Black children in general, but Black boys in specific, are given “The Talk”  about anti-Blackness and its corresponding violence. “The Talk” seeks to keep Black boys alive. If Black boys are taught to stay alive, as suggested by “The Talk” and Cole, then why would they “reach for a gun”???Woman holding sign "too many cops too little justice" and police lined up in the back

   “THE TALK” is a provisional solution to an endemic problem.

In line19 Cole poses “They think we got a death wish,” a rhetorical question. This quote furthers his interrogation of police rationality, and the use of we “implicates” Cole as one subject of the preceding claims made against Black boys. But the paradoxical statement— “death wish”— highlights Cole’s criticism more staunchly. The idea that a Black man/boy would reach for a gun to shot a cop is flawed; it is ridiculous, or a “death wish.” Death and wish are opposing forces. The noun death is a state of being, traditionally considered as negative. Iconography surrounding death are ghosts, spirits, cemeteries, and the grime reaper, to name a few. All of these aspects hold negative connotations. Death is negative. Nonetheless, Black communities daily wrestle with the possibility of death at the heightened presence of a law-and-order society.

According to Dictionary.com, to wish, is a verb that means to “feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable.” The words “hope” and “desire” and “not easily attainable” suggests a wish is idyllic. If someone makes a wish, typically, it is for something good or beneficial. These two readings of wish imply its optimism— hopefulness. Optimism challenges negativity, proving them as an unlikely pair. Thus, “death wish” is an unnatural union—IT DOESN’T WORK! No one, usually, desires death. And if a Black man/boy sought a weapon in the presence of a cop, he would be one of those anomalies desiring death. Here Cole meditates on police violence, anti-Blackness, and the state’s attempts at suppressing Black communities.

Cole’s examination of police violence is warranted. If one would to study u.s history, even modern u.s history, the tension between Black communities and the police will become salient. In 2017 the tension and terror persisted! Whereas data on police violence is often partial, beginning in 2015 the Washington Post designed a system for readily collecting and organizing such data. For statistical representation, great! But it is no absolute. There are many narratives not included. Activists often comment on the lack of coverage of police terror, and when coverage is given it is usually by the community. But the tool bares use in its illumination of a national problem. Nevertheless, Cole was first-in-line to “articulate publicly and on a mass scale many of this generation’s beliefs [concerning the police state] … unfiltered by…corporate structures” (Kitwana 202).

Cole is the NEEDED voice!

In line one Cole declares American hypocrisy, oh, let me count the ways. This statement implies the multiplicity of ways the united states is hypocritical; Cole says: “let me count the ways.” The words count and ways connote that hypocrisy is pervasive in America—it is everywhere. Count suggests that there are numerous exhibitions of an object—there isn’t just one. Counting becomes faulty if out of sequence, thus sequential order becomes imbued within “count.” Coles counting of hypocrisy is chronological. Numerical objects are also relational. The former augments the latter. Therefore, Cole suggests that each instance of hypocrisy is contingent upon the last.

A way is the method used to perform an activity. The HOW you did something. Then to pluralize way infers that numerous methods were used in the implementation, in the u.s case, of hypocrisy. Bear in mind such methods are strategic and often political. Thus, Cole positions the united states as an entity who uses/ ed various modes of hypocrisy to establish its supremacy. Together, Cole’s use of count and ways illustrates the logical and numerous ways the united states employed mechanisms to order society that effectively displayed its hypocrisy.

One mechanism used was the demarcation of freedom and the slave in American History! The Pilgrim’s fleeing of persecution, yet their later participation in enslavement are never remembered together.  Cole pronounces “They came here seekin’ freedom/Then they end up owin’ slaves” (2-3).  Cole’s juxtaposition of these two pivotal events are the epicenter of the united states’ social, political, and cultural life. Hypocrisy was at the beginning.Audre Lorde

At the Copeland Colloquium in April of 1980, Audre Lorde delivers Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference. In this essay, Lorde’s arguments originate at the need to recognize differences and to understand it as vital to the human experience. She argues: “[I]t is not…differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions…from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior.” Lorde, and Cole, ideas converge at the point of “historical amnesia” and the “mythical norm.” As Lorde reimagines the utility of differences, Cole likewise presents the facts of the united states’ handling of difference in hope of disturbing the blissful ignorance.

Cole remarks That’s why ISIS is a crisis/ But in reality this country do the same shit/ Take a life and call it righteous (6-8).

American flag painted w/ blood

Cole compares the United States of America to a terrorist organization! A country scared bya terrorist attack that occurred more than a decade ago. Therefore, Cole’s use of “same shit” to describe the similar actions of America and ISIS makes them kindred spirits. Sameness with ISIS, a symbol for all terrorists’ organizations, is the antithesis of how the united states IMAGINES themselves. And Cole emphasizes how it is just that—imaginary. Because in “reality” the united states is more like ISIS than unlike. The word “reality” suggests the physical world, not the one bound up by speech but the everyday. Whereas differences are primal to the united states, they have been “misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion” (Lorde 1980). Instead, difference has become a catchy slogan: melting pot! That is rhetorical, in practice the u.s inflicts terror on those socially different. Much like ISIS

Cole illustrates how terror and hypocrisy were seeded into this country. Above Cole again illuminates america’s hypocrisy by remedying its “historical amnesia.” Cole appears tired of “working to invent the wheel every time we…go to the store for bread” (Lorde). Cole wants us to remember. Cole is teaching us to make connections and pay attention.

Bakari Kitwana (2002), in The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, is thinking about the pedagogical structure of Hip Hop and the factors that contribute to its success. In Chapter 8, Kitwana situates define Hip Hop as the “definitive cultural movement of our generation” by situating it in the public political sphere (195). He deems Hip Hop a Black modality useful for the transmission of knowledge from the main stream to the Black communities and vice-versa. And is interested in the Hip Hop figures that assist in that movement.

Line eight displays Cole’s mastery of internal contradictions. He says: They “take a life and call it righteous” (8). The action of taking a life, euphemistic for murder, is in opposition to righteousness. Righteousness infers morally correct actions, those things that are right. Righteous actions are also in alignment with God’s way. God denounces murder. In such, the united states’ infliction of terror domestically and internationally misaligns with its righteous essentials. It is not being truthful. Cole’s reference to Bin Laden’s 2011 ambush amplifies the above contradiction. Cole recollects, “Remember when Bin Laden got killed, supposedly?” (9). Remember is an ambiguous term; it serves both as a question and a demand. This informal gesture of historicizing, connects to Kitwana’s view of “rap music as ‘the Black CNN’’ (201). It becomes a medium of transmitting national news to pockets of Black communities. Whereas listeners may be unaware of Bin Laden’s death, Cole informs audience members of the death as to manipulate the collective memory and to progress his stance. He “articulate[s] publicly and on a mass scale many of this generation’s beliefs, relatively unfiltered by the corporate structures that carried it” (Kitwana 202). Yes, Cole prompts us (fans) to remember issues of national urgency; yet, he remains invested in having the voices of the margins heard.

Cole acts as news anchor for his fans.

Hip Hop is a way of being for many urban youth communities; it is their way of staying connected to the broader world. Therefore, consideration should be given to its importance to larger socio-political happenings. My analysis reveals how Hip Hop struggles to hold the united states accountable to its founding ideals—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Whereas artists do not fail, their efforts are often stymied by those same social powers under critique. Revolution is necessary. And Lorde specifies what type of revolutionary change is needed; she says: “the true focus of revolutionary change is…that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knowns only the oppressor’s tactics, the oppressor’s relationships.” Cole is reimagining a new set of tactics. We all must if we are ever to live a life free of terror.

Works Cited:

Appiah, Anthony. “Identity, Authenticity, Survival: Multicultural Societies and Social Reproduction.” Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition , edited by Charles Taylor, Princeton, 149-163.

Kitwana, Bakari. The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture, Basic Civitas, 2002.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Copeland Colloquium, April 1980, Keynote Address.

OpEd

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pen Is, Indeed, Mightier than the Sword: A Poet’s Take

Poets often connect events from the past to relevant contemporary issues to reflect upon how the early stages of life carve a person into the individual they are bound to become. Rita Joe, a poet and author who aligns with such a picture, solemnly accentuates one way in which her childhood was molded by her surroundings at school and how that informed her readiness to take charge of herself in the poem “I Lost My Talk.” Published in 1988, this poem was originally featured in the collection Song of Eskasoni: More Poems of Rita Joe and has since been included in the book Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi’Kmaq Poet, published in 1996 (Joe, Song of Rita Joe 55, 188).

https://www.poetryinvoice.com/poems/poets/rita-joe

Rita Joe

A Mi’Kmaq, Joe was born in 1932 in the eastern Canadian town of Whycocomagh, Cape Breton to a family of many children with insufficient financial resources (17-18). As mentioned noticeably at the outset of her story, Joe was very young when she became an orphan and began a spiral through the foster home and residential school systems of Canada (Whitehead 9). Acknowledging Joe’s personal history adds an emotional depth to inform the understanding of the source of her feelings and the somber tone established in the poem.

Rita Joe’s poem “I Lost My Talk,” composed of four stanzas of free verse and simplistic, repetitive vocabulary, follows a young girl attending the Shubenacadie school to depict her relationship with an unnamed – presumably upper-level – figure of authority. The speaker metaphorically indicates that an aspect of her inherent individuality, her “talk,” has been stolen and replaced by something foreign that belongs to the authoritative figure, and she desperately wishes to be permitted to discover it again (Joe, “I Lost My Talk”). Further, Joe informs readers that various other aspects of her individuality were replaced as well (7-8). The storyline of this poem stems from the malicious history of Indigenous residential schools and their impact on the lives of the children who called them home, recounted in They Came for the Children: Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools (2012). As a person who was in a previous residential school, Joe’s writing reflects the government’s ambition “to assimilate Aboriginal children into broader Canadian society”; they would “continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic” by “[denying them] the right to speak their language” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 1, 86, Moore, Leslie, and Maguire qtd in 12). Ultimately, “residential schools…were established…to further [the government’s] long-term aim of ending the country’s treaty obligations by assimilating its Aboriginal population” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 12). Throughout the poem, Joe transitions from a girl forbidden by the residential school to act on her own accord into one who seeks rediscovery of her true self to share that self with the world. In actually writing from the Indigenous side of the story, Joe’s articulation of her internal suffering offers insight into what was actually taking place in residential schools from an inside-looking-out perspective.

http://www.danielnpaul.com/IndianResidentialSchools.html

Joe’s Residential School at Shebenacadie

Joe’s poem precisely outlines what I have referenced about the residential school system and generates a sense of realization and anger amongst audiences, directed at whomever is brainwashing students. She reveals what can be interpreted as the lack of acceptance for Indigenous peoples like herself by sharing a story of dehumanization, how she quite literally became a stranger to herself. Her writing and her final request to reclaim what has been stolen from her must not only be analyzed in conjunction with Canada’s history of assimilation, but also with how it parallels and precedes pessimistic arguments against present multiculturalism issues that I will address.

Throughout her poem, Joe utilizes figurative language to tell a very personal story, signaling deep implications regarding what it may have been like to be a child at a residential school. She strategically opens with a metaphor to explain how, while there, an inherent piece of her was erased; Joe says, “I lost my talk / The talk you took away / When I was a little girl / At Shubenacadie school” (“I Lost My Talk” 1-4). Here, the poet is reflecting on how Indigenous peoples were told by those with authority at the residential schools to never talk in their Native language (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 24). Joe’s decision to use the word “lost” in reference to her “talk” suggests that some part of her inherent humanness is gone, probably unintentionally. This creates an abstract description, as speech is not something that can physically be displaced. Further, Joe seems to be left confused, when she describes “The scrambled ballad, about my word” (“I Lost My Talk” 9). Imagining her thoughts and feelings as messy and without purpose, implied by the negative associations of the words “lost” and “scrambled,” provides insight into Joe’s headspace during her schooling and how that reflects what I have already outlined about residential schools.

Also, in relying on the pronoun “you,” as opposed to ever referencing a specific person or group, Joe develops an accusatory tone, constructing an antagonistic persona for those responsible for the residential schools, who are distant from herself and her peers. Such a tone may create a feeling of resentment or anger – directed at the “you” – that is similar to Joe’s. In addition, Joe goes on to set up a narrative between a robber and a victim, portraying this “you” figure, who readers interpret to be those commanding the schools, as a thief. In reference to her “talk,” she writes that “You snatched it away” (Joe, “I Lost My Talk” 5). The connotation of the word “snatched” implies that something was stolen quickly, greedily, and without her – the victim – even realizing. This diction not only furthers the feeling of confusion Joe seems to suggest, but also increases the divide between Joe and her school. This theft, of sorts, is so important in the opening of the poem because it shows the goal of the residential schools to “kill languages” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission 1). Her illustrations set the stage for comprehending why it is so significant for people like Joe to get their “talk” back. In using this metaphor, Joe strips down to the basis of what was happening to Indigenous peoples at this point in history, which will both relate to and contradict our understanding of policies concerning multiculturalism that would soon arise.

The implementation of new multicultural policies in Canada has echoed a similar chronology across Indigenous populations, compared to Joe’s illustration of her speech restriction during her residential school time. In his chapter “Where the Voice Was Coming From,” featured in the anthology, Across Cultures, Across Borders: Canadian Aboriginal and Native American Literature (2010), author Armand Garnet Ruffo walks readers through a short history of multicultural legislation and how it has afflicted Indigenous peoples (173-75). For example, Ruffo describes the 1969 White Paper

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/pierre-elliot-trudeau-praised-the-value-of-diversity-inclusiveness-in-1971-223029284.html

Prime Minister Trudeau

released by Prime Minister Trudeau “to abrogate treaty and Aboriginal rights and sweep away hundreds of years of Canadian historical record” (173). He further critiques the feelings of Trudeau towards Native peoples, as it was his intention “to make Aboriginal people equal to other Canadians” (173). Eventually, as new multicultural legislation was introduced by Trudeau that failed to acknowledge Indigenous peoples as founding nations, these policies ran the risk of burying said peoples behind the fact that multicultural laws were even present (174-75). Ruffo’s arguments make it obvious that he is especially critical of Trudeau’s multiculturalism. This foreshadows his scrutinization of “the way in which language has been used as a strategy to subordinate the colonized” in Canada, which, I would argue, is Joe’s main claim in her poem (177).

In drawing connections to Joe’s experiences as one of “the colonized,” we see that her time in a residential school parallels Ruffo’s claims about the issues arising from today’s multiculturalism: as Joe surrendered something that belonged to her, so too did the overall Indigenous population. I think this forces us to question that if multicultural legislation does not see Native peoples in the truest form of their being, with them “slip[ping] under the umbrella of multiculturalism,” is it not just another version of the assimilation and rules against language at residential schools (Ruffo 175; Truth and Reconciliation Commission 1, 86)? On a similar note, I would argue that Joe could represent a real life example who expands Ruffo’s textual claim regarding how language was set in opposition to people like her. At the end of the poem, Joe comes full circle with her continued metaphor, leaving audiences with a hanging request; she replies, “So gently I offer my hand and ask” for the “you” figure in the poem to “Let me find my talk / So I can teach you about me” (“I Lost My Talk” 13-15). This phrase is framed as a question, as if Joe must obtain permission to tell about herself, and the continued emphasis of “you” implies that this is the figure who must grant permission. Her articulation of the phrase “let me” adopts a pleading tone, a sort of longing. Usually, when one needs to get approval, it suggests that they typically are not able to do something in the first place. This is recounted by one student in a residential school, for example, who recalls that “'[they] weren’t allowed to speak Cree, only French and English’” (Campbell qtd in Truth and Reconciliation Commission 69). This reinforces Joe’s implications of her inherent humanness being withdrawn. Yet, these concluding lines also suggest a forward-thinking approach, radiating a more positive vibe compared to the rest of the poem. This point signals the climax of Joe’s transition from being shut down in a residential school to showing a readiness to use her words to inform others about herself. Her final stanza sets up further complications that will emerge between her willingness to share personal anecdotes and the implementation of multiculturalism in Canada, while also proposing how this willingness can inform the future of multiculturalism.

In his 2014 chapter “Beyond Continuance: Criticism of Indigenous Literatures in Canada,” author Sam McKegney writes about Indigenous peoples in a context that parallels Joe’s character development throughout her poem. Published in the larger work, The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, McKegney looks at the bigger picture of Canadian multiculturalism and Indigenous peoples through the evaluation of literature. Through laws McKegney describes, like the White Paper and Canadian Multiculturalism Act, he contextualizes how “Canadian multiculturalism has worked to efface the unique historical conditions of Indigenous nations,” portraying “those nations as cultures . . . shards within the Canadian mosaic,” indicating that multiculturalism itself is restricting Indigenous peoples (411). It is imperative for McKegney to provide this background information. Yet, his purpose is to address the issue of multiculturalism through his claim for an Indigenous “movement beyond continuance”; this would utilize “Indigenous literary art as a provocateur of the type of systemic change that will create conditions in which Indigenous individuals can pursue the social, political, and cultural vibrancy that will propel Indigenous communities beyond continuance” (417; Armstrong qtd in 410). McKegney’s main argument mainly stems from Emma LaRocque, an Indigenous scholar, who argues that Indigenous literature is the facilitator that will make the Indigenous viewpoint meaningful and influential, and also correlates with Ruffo’s argument for writing “as a vehicle for expression and a necessary precursor to the Aboriginal literary movement of today” (LaRocque qtd in McKegney 409; Ruffo 172).

McKegney’s article expands upon the conclusion of “I Lost My Talk” in that Joe’s goal in getting her speech back initiates the sort of transformative action he outlines. Joe’s final phrases show her eagerness to welcome McKegney’s included responsibility for Indigenous peoples to take their written work, their “talk,” and employ it to advocate for the recognition of Indigenous legitimacy (Armstrong qtd in McKegney 410). Her desire to chronicle herself and her people represents the expression through literature that McKegney suggests will enable Native peoples to further themselves. In order to achieve this, McKegney considers the “‘deconstruction-construction’” idea of Jeannette Armstrong, an Indigenous writer, in that

profound positive change for Indigenous individuals and communities…requires the reconstruction of a new order [because] the decolonizing process…involve[s] not simply the tearing down of colonial systems but the creation of…alternatives built from the fabric of Indigenous worldviews and traditions. (Armstrong qtd in 417)

This new thought process grounds and justifies how McKegney’s claims regarding literature pick up where “the decolonizing process” leaves off. This argument basically implies that if Canada is to become more attentive to each of its citizens – Indigenous people included – the current form of multiculturalism that McKegney critiques is going to have to evolve, accommodating those like Rita Joe.

In reality, Sam McKegney is not the only author who sees potential for the works of people like Rita Joe. Daniel Heath Justice’s “Letter to an Emerging Indigenous Writer,” published in 2018, is intended to motivate Indigenous writers to share their personal accounts while also validating their presence as writers (Justice). One of his major takeaways for writers is that “if you have the gift, you’re called upon to use it for the People, your own and the rest” and that “your words are needed” (Justice). Ultimately, his charge and reassurance for Indigenous writers is in complete opposition with how not only the words, but other basic facets of Indigenous peoples’ personalities, were regarded in residential schools, as relayed by Joe. In her poem, she explains that “I speak like you / I think like you / I create like you” (Joe, “I Lost My Talk” 6-8). Joe is referencing this “you” again and integrating elementary verbs that form the basis of who we are as humans to show how other aspects of her individuality, beyond simply her language, were replaced by a commanding figure. The repetition of similar phrases insinuates Joe’s limited capacity to diversify her sentence structure; this mirrors her limited capacity to truly make sense of who she is, amidst the noise of her residential school. Joe’s writing aligns more closely with one of Justice’s opening lines that discern how “too often [Indigenous writers have] been told that [their] words don’t matter” (Justice). In his letter, it was imperative for Justice to first acknowledge this idea before he could begin his motivational mantra, as I described above.

Even still, Justice’s motivation situates itself with Rita Joe’s poem, her figurative language illustrating a figurative passing of the torch, if you will: Justice’s arguments in favor of the growth of Indigenous writers begin from the point where Joe’s final stanza closes. As Joe exhibits a readiness to inform about herself (“Let me find my talk / So I can teach you about me” (“I Lost My Talk” 14-15)), Justice grabs that feeling and runs. Despite Justice’s letter being written contemporarily, we can still see connections between the shared emotions of writers like Joe and Justice. Yet, herein lies the friction between the enactment of residential schools and multicultural legislation and then the response of Indigenous authors.

Fundamentally, examining Joe’s implications about residential schools in conjunction with the eventual development of multicultural laws in Canada, we see an overlap between the way she was handled and the way in which her people as a whole are managed today. That said, what we are left to ponder is what is at the core of each of these arguments concerning literature and Indigenous peoples: they all create tension with the history and the current appraisals of Canadian multiculturalism I have included from Ruffo and McKegney. Some people, like author Erna Paris, regard Canada as “the world’s most successful multicultural society” (Paris). From my perspective, after outlining the history behind Joe’s depictions of residential schools with more recent multiculturalism, I question and respectfully dispute, on some levels, the validity of this statement. With such tensions between the schools, Indigenous peoples and authors, and multicultural laws, I raise some doubts that Canadian multiculturalism is as impressive as it may seem. Yet, remembering how Joe “lost” pieces of herself in school and looking at current arguments attacking what Canadian multiculturalism is doing to Indigenous peoples, I would argue that Canada is going to have a very interesting, complicated, and tricky road ahead, as it comes in conversation with authors like Joe and Justice, the issues and ignorance of multicultural laws, and new ideas of how to apply literature. But, ultimately, I have realized that Joe’s poem is timeless in its applicability to Indigenous peoples and is integral for the evaluation of Canada’s history with residential schools and their current dealings with multiculturalism.

OpEd

Works Cited

Works Cited
Joe, Rita. “I Lost My Talk.” Poetry in Voice, 2016,                                                                          https://www.poetryinvoice.com/poems/i-lost-my-talk. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

– – -. Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi’Kmaq Poet. Lincoln, Nebraska, University                of Nebraska Press, 1996.

Justice, Daniel Heath. “Letter to an Emerging Indigenous Writer.” Literary Hub,                              28 Mar. 2018, https://lithub.com/letter-to-an-emerging-indigenous-writer/.                        Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

McKegney, Sam. “Beyond Continuance: Criticism of Indigenous Literatures in Canada.”                The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature, edited by James H.                Cox and Daniel Heath Justice, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 409-426.

Paris, Erna. “Canadians Must Never Take Multiculturalism for Granted.” The Globe and 
              Mail, 7 July 2016, first ed.,                                                                                                  https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/canadians- must-                                              nevertakemulticulturalism-for-granted/article30773630/.                                                    Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

Ruffo, Armand Garnet. “Where the Voice Was Coming From.” Across Cultures, Across
             Borders: Canadian Aboriginal and Native American Literature, edited by Paul                  DePasquale, Renate Eigenbrod, and Emma LaRocque, Broadview Press,                      2010, pp. 171-194.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. They Came for the Children:                     Canada, Aboriginal Peoples, and Residential Schools. Winnipeg, Manitoba,                     Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2012.                                                   http://www.myrobust.com/websites/trcinstitution/File/2039_T&R_eng_web                       [1].pdf. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.

Whitehead, Ruth Holmes. “Introduction.” Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi’Kmaq             Poet, University of Nebraska Press, 1996, pp. 9-10.

Ethnic Identity and Human Identity

What’s better: recognition as a human being or recognition as part of the ethnic group that shaped you? What’s worse? In post-colonial societies like Malaysia and Singapore, official racial categories are openly used, whereas in the West, “race” is such a hot topic that it has been supplanted by “culture” and “life choices” — at least that’s how Daniel P.S. Goh and Philip Holden describe it in their introduction of Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Both men are professors at the National University of Singapore, Goh in Sociology and Holden in English Literature, and edited the collection in 2009 (University of Singapore, Holden). Their chapter focuses on introducing the reader to the post-colonial multiculturalism of the East as opposed to the West in two sections, one focusing on racial governmentality, which is what I’ll be looking at, and the other on Asian capitalism and neoliberal multiculturalism.

The official Malaysian and Singapore categories are Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) and I find it interesting that Goh and Holden argue on page four that these categories, which are a remnant of British colonialism, cannot be wished and should instead be studied and worked with. Race-blind liberalism would not be effective after the trauma of colonization. This goes in conflict with Steven C. Rockefeller’s comment Image result for multiculturalism malaysiaon Taylor’s Multiculturalism. In his chapter, Rockefeller emphasizes the importance of our identity and human beings being put above anything else. He argues that putting our ethnic identity higher than, or even equal to, our identity as a human being weakens the foundation of liberalism and “opens the door to intolerance” (Rockefeller 88).

It can be hard to argue with Rockefeller’s point, seeing people as inherently different is what lead to “separate, but equal” policies in the United States, that is the balance multiculturalism strives to achieve. Recognition that we are all equal and recognition that our different cultures and histories make us different. Rockefeller’s view seems to apply to a perfect society, not a real ones like Malaysia and Singapore that have already been dealt the blow of colonization. So what’s better and what’s worse?

Blog Post 6

Works Cited

“Associate Professor Daniel P.S. Goh.” FASS Staff Profile – Staff Access, National University of Singapore, profile.nus.edu.sg/fass/socgohd/stf_socgohd.htm.

Goh, Daniel and Philip Holden. “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism.” Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, Routledge, 2009, pp. 1-9.

Holden, Phillip. “Curriculum Vitae.” Philip Holden | National University of Singapore – Academia.edu, nus.academia.edu/PhilipHolden/CurriculumVitae.

Rockefeller, Steven C, and Charles Taylor. “Comment.” Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 87-98.

Institutionalized Stereotypes

Daniel P.S Goh and Philip Holden’s chapter “Postcoloniality, race and multiculturalism” in the 2009 Routledge publication, Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore addresses the controversy regarding race in both Singapore and Malaysia. Both Goh and Holden analyzes how the colonial British perceived both races and cultures are embedded in the roots of Malaysian and Singaporean multiculturalism and ethnonationalism.

 

Goh and Holden emphasize that “in Singapore and Malaysia [the British have] institutionalized colonial racial identities and woven them into the fabric of political and social life to the extent that they constitute a common sense through which people conceive identities of themselves and others” (2-3). British colonialism internalized race so much so that one’s social and political that the British practically assigned ‘suitable’ roles for every race in Malaysia and Singapore. Within the political economy, the labor industry was extremely divided. The “Chinese were placed as commercial middlemen aliens, Malays and Indonesian migrants confined to the fields as indigenous peasant smallholders, and the Indians imported as municipal and plantation labourers” (5).

 

Through segregation, everyone is forced to not only generalize the intersectionality of their identity but are also forced to take on the stereotypes that are rooted so deeply in their social and political culture. The hindering of racial stereotypes can also be found in Lelia Aboulela’s “The Ostrich”. In this context, Sundanese immigrants Sumra and her husband Majdy are abroad in the where Sumra’s husband forces her to abandon certain cultural aspects of herself given the stereotypical thoughts of the people of the United Kingdom. This is evident on page 5 when Majdy tells Sumra that she’ll be perceived more openly by the people of London if she were to no longer cloth herself in her religious garb.

The stereotypes forced onto one’s race and culture can they heavily impact someone’s identity. Not only societal and political stereotypical ideals limit people’s belief of what ‘can’ do, but tell them what they certainly can not.

 

Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 12 April 2018.

Goh, Daniel P.S and Phillip Holden. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, London: Routledge, 2009.

Multicultural Hypocrisy

Daniel Goh and Philip Holden, in “Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore” (2009) unpacks and theorizes about multiculturalism, from a non-western perspective. They are attentive to postcolonial scholarship to understand a former colonial state’s ability to effectively manifest multiculturalism. They actively tug at the rigid western conception of multiculturalism, in hope of expanding dominate narratives about multicultural states.http://

Whereas the title implies a positive reading of Malaysian and Singaporian multiculturalism, some of the offered critiques challenge such reading. Goh and Holden argues that “in postcolonial societies such as Singapore and Malaysia race itself is a category openly made use of by the state apparatus” (2). Race is signaled as having an intrinsic function to the government; it is an explicitly hegemonic tool. Unlike in the U.S where its workings are more clandestine. In states implementing “postcolonial multiculturalism” consider racial categories differently than some western nations due in part, according to Goh and Holden, to their relation with a colonial power.

These nations have “institutionalized colonial racial identities and woven them into the fabric of political and social life to the extent that they constitute…[how] people conceived identities of themselves and others” (3). Inhere in the imaginations of these nation-states is eurocentric understanding. While they are independent, such existence is nominal; the stench of colonialism still roams their streets, linger in their homes, and hide within their clothes. Therefore, like Beverly Tatum argues, the postcolonial multicultural nation-state understands themselves only in relation to whiteness—a scale they were never intended to be considered on.  

This differs from certain western societies and overlaps with others. For instance, Canada holds itself as a multicultural nation. However, similar to Malaysia and Singapore, it has “institutionalized” specific cultural identities thus marking them superior. In Malaysia and Singapore, it was the Chinese, Malaysians, Indians, and Others; while in Canada, it was the English and the French. Canada has two Official Languages, both connected to two historically recognized cultural groups. Does this not contradict the mission of multiculturalism?

Conversely there is the united states. Not an explicitly multicultural nation, but certain legislation and founding agreements marks it a nation for all people, regardless of cultural upbringings. Therefore, the united states have no official language or religion. But this is solely de jure. Because the quotidian of illegible Others, those read as threatening to the American Way, are denied citizenship. The multicultural rhetoric fades and hypocrisy is revealed.

Work Cited

Goh, Daniel P.S and Phillip Holden. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore, London: Routledge, 2009.