Racial Oppression: The System Essay, Research Paper
Today, a serious problem exists all over the world. Racial oppression takes place in the poorest and the richest countries, including America. Racial oppression is characterized by the majority, or the ruling race, imposing its beliefs, values, and laws on the minority, or the ruled race. In most areas, the ruling race is upper class whites that run the “system”, and have a disproportionate amount of power. In other areas, it may not be the white race, but it is still the race that is comprised of the majority, makes the laws, or has the most money. These are the keys to domination over the weaker minorities that don’t have the power to thrive under the majority’s system according to their own cultural beliefs, values, and laws.
One of the countries in which oppression is apparent is South Africa, a country that practices apartheid. “Drought”, a sort of parable written by Jan Rabie, addresses this very issue in a compelling way. A white man and a black man are working together in the midday sun on an arid plain. Not long after the white man instructs the black man to work outside because he has black skin and can stand the sun better. He tells the black guy that, “You are cursed…Long ago my God cursed you with darkness…we want to build houses and teach you blacks how to live in peace with us” (685-86), yet the house they are building is designed to separate them. The black man counters by pointing out that his “ancestors dipped their assegais in the blood of your forefathers and saw that it was red as blood” (686). He is linking himself to the white man by their blood, which of course is the same color regardless of the differing amounts of melanin in their skin and their different backgrounds. The white man responds by telling him, “It’s time you forgot the damned past” (686). The white man is imposing his own beliefs and traditions on the black man, and ordering him to forget his own.
Another work that deals with racial issues in South Africa is Mark Mathabane’s autobiographical essay, “I Leave South Africa”, in which Mark describes his first trip to America. Expecting the Promised Land, a country that tolerates all individuals, regardless of race, class, or cultural background, Mark is shocked when he speaks to the Black Muslim. The Muslim asks Mark for his African name and he responds with his “white” name, but the Muslim is not fooled. Mark writes, “I was startled by this. How did he know I had an African name? I hardly used it myself because it was an unwritten rule among black youths raised in the ghettos to deny their tribal identity and affiliation, and that denial applied especially to names” (786). He is also surprised when the Muslim encourages him to attend a black college. Mark thought that he was talking about a tribal school, apparently another tool used to segregate the races in South Africa.
It is important to note the Muslim’s perspective on integration in America. He believes that it is a way for the “white devil” to force the black man to become more and more dependant on whites. He says, “This integration business in America is a fraud. It ain’t good for the black mind and culture…also, no matter how integrated we become, white folks won’t accept us as equals. So why should we break our backs trying to mix with them, heh? To them we will always be niggers” (787-88). He also tells Mark that, “You will find a lot of South Africa in this country, brother” (788). This perspective, while extreme, did not spawn itself. It came about because of racial oppression. These ideas are similar to those of Malcolm X, an American.
Etheridge Knight, an author of poetry and winner of an American Book Award, read the Autobiography of Malcolm X while serving time in the Indiana State Prison. His poem, “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” reflects the system punishing those that don’t adapt to the rules. Battle-scarred “Hard Rock was ‘known not to take no *censored* from nobody’” (714). His rebellious acts against the system, such as smacking “the captain with his dinner tray”, surviving a record time in the Hole, and biting “a screw on the thumb and…[poisoning] him with syphilitic spit” (715), were deemed intolerable. Hard Rock returned to prison lobotomized and shock-treated. Remember that, in order to avoid punishment in oppressive countries, many authors use allegorical stories to criticize their oppressors.
If you need more evidence of the system at work in America, simply compare the ratio of academic and athletic scholarships awarded to black youths to the ratio of scholarships awarded to white youths. The comparison implies that blacks are intellectually inferior; it is wrong and morally unacceptable.
Blacks are not the only minority subjected to racist oppression in America. Chinese-American Wing Tek Lum, a well-educated individual and winner of the Creative Literature Award from the Association for Asian American Studies, expresses his feelings in “Minority Poem”. He feels that dominant Anglo culture only tolerates minorities as Americans, but considers them “the leftover peelings” of the American apple pie (879). The key to realizing the severity of the problem is to understand that Lum’s experience extends beyond what most minority individuals experience: low-class housing, prison time, and no education beyond high school (if not less than that).
The system isn’t unique to Anglo-dominated countries. Rigoberta Menchu’s “The Torture and Death of Her Little Brother” is a sad example of this. Rigoberta’s people, the Quiche, are subjected to unimaginable horrors by the “democratic” Guatemalan government in order to persuade them to adapt to the system: “Subversives deserved to be punished and to die” (701). After Rigoberta’s brother was “tortured for more than sixteen days” (702), he and the other prisoners were paraded to the center of the village for punishment. All nearby civilians were required to attend and witness the punishment, including Rigoberta and her family. The civilians were corralled with jeeps, armored cars, and helicopters in order to prevent them from leaving. The bleeding and disfigured prisoners were marched out to stand for hours while “the captain gave a panoramic description of all the power they had, the capacity they had. We, the people, didn’t have the capacity to confront them. This was really all being said to strike terror into the people and stop anyone from speaking” (705). The dying prisoners were dragged “along to this place, where they lined them up all together within sight of everyone” (706), and soaked with petrol. After being lit on fire, the tortured people that could still scream and beg for mercy did. Others collapsed and twitched. The Guatemalan soldiers justified their actions by labeling the villagers “communists”. This is racial oppression in its most hideous form.
Crimes like those committed by the Guatemalan government have taken place very recently in Afghanistan. Apparently, the Taliban uses terror tactics against its own minorities. CNN reported a 17-year old boy being skinned alive in front of his family, which was forced to watch. But their actions against the U.S. have also spawned the answer to racial oppression: Unity.
Sandra Maria Esteves, a Latina of Puerto Rican background, writes in her poem “Weaver”:
Weave us a song for our bodies to sing
a song of many threads
that will dance with the colors of our people
and cover us with the warmth of peace
Esteves, Sandra Maria. “Weaver”. The Many Worlds of Literature. Ed. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2000.
Knight, Etheridge. “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane”. The Many Worlds of Literature. Ed. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2000.
Lum, Wing Tek. “Minority Poem”. The Many Worlds of Literature. Ed. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2000.
Mathabane, Mark. “I Leave South Africa”. The Many Worlds of Literature. Ed. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2000.
Menchu, Rigoberta. “The Torture and Death of Her Little Brother”. The Many Worlds of Literature. Ed. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2000.
Rabie, Jan. “Drought”. The Many Worlds of Literature. Ed. Stuart and Terry Hirschberg. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2000.