Racism has been a prominent issue in the world throughout history, causing much suffering through exclusion, injustice, and murder. Whole races of people have been exterminated in the name of racism. Many people are oblivious to the ‘subtle’ racism that still occurs in our daily lives. They do not realize that it exists in our schools, workplaces and communities, and although the consequences may not be as bad as occurred in some historical events, racism is still a major issue, though positive progress is being made. I am going to be arguing that racism is a powerful force that corrupts the judgment of groups and individuals leading to injustice: destroying the lives of those targeted by this prejudice. I will refer to the texts, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee and ‘Hurricane’ by Bob Dylan, to show racism at work. I will also be arguing that the stereotypes that so often fuel racism are wrongly conceived and most often inappropriately placed upon people. I will examine the texts, ‘Bred in South Auckland’ by Glen Colquhoun and ‘Telephone’ by Wole Soyinka, to illustrate this. Overall I am going to show that racism is inherently unjust and how stereotyping can perpetuate racist behavior and its consequences.
Racism is a powerful force of cruelty and injustice. ‘Hurricane’ by Bob Dylan is a compelling piece of music that strongly illustrates the story of Rubin Carter, the main contender for the middleweight boxing title, and how he was wrongly accused and convicted of a triple murder just because of his race. “When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road/Just like the time before and the time before that/In Patterson that’s just the way things go/If you’re black you might as well not shown up on the street/Less you wanna draw the heat.” This suggests that Rubin has drawn the attention of the police before and Dylan is implying that this is because of his race and colour. The police carry out justice in the way they think they have a right to do, but their perspective has been warped by excessive racism and prejudice. “Think that might have been a fighter that you saw running that night?”/”Don’t forget that you are white.”” The police tell Arthur Dexter Bradley that he saw Rubin Carter running from the murder scene. “Now if you don’t wanna go back to jail be a nice fellow/You’ll be doing society a favour/That sonofabitch is brave and getting braver/We want to put his ass on the stir/We want to pin this triple murder him” The police threaten Bradley with jail, then try to convince him that he’ll be helping the community. The cops then go on to admit they just want to put Carter in jail and want to pin the murder on him. They never mention that they believe he actually did it. The police, the very people who are meant to carry out justice, framed Rubin Carter for the murder of three people. The extreme force of racism predetermined the policemen’s values and beliefs making them overlook the evidence and convict Rubin unjustly.
‘Hurricane’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, by Harper Lee, have strong connection in the stories they tell of racial prejudice and injustice. Throughout the court scene of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Tom Robinson’s innocence is proven time and again, but it is overlooked because of the colour of his skin. The right side of Mayella Ewell’s face is battered and bruised while Tom Robinson’s corresponding, left, arm, is crippled and disfigured, Mayella’s father is left handed. This obviously proves that tom Robinson is innocent of raping Mayella Ewell, but the all white jury still convicted him of the crime. This connects to Hurricane by showing that against all the evidence and logic, through prejudicial racism, injustice happens. In this scene Harper Lee also shows that a white man has never been convicted over a black man before. “I ain’t never seen a jury decide in favour of a coloured than a white man.” Here Lee is showing injustice through racism, is extremely common and when a coloured man is involved, there is little chance for him. Within these two texts racial injustice is shown clearly – through the telling of a true story in Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’, and then through Harper Lee’s fictional ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ and his delivery of the story and exposure of peoples’ thoughts and beliefs.
Racism is how people perceive based on someone’s race and this perception most often comes from stereotypes. These stereotypes are, for the most part, wrong and come about because of prejudice against difference and change. ‘Telephone’, by Wole Soyinka, is a perfect example of falsely stereotyping because of the colour of a man’s skin. ‘Telephone’ is a conversation between an African man, who has traveled to England, and a white landlady. This poem uses irony to illustrate racial stereotypes and how far they are from the
truth. “Silenced transmission of/ Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came/lipstick coated, long gold-rolled/ cigarette-holder piped.” From the beginning of the poem, the landlady is portrayed as being educated and well-mannered. Once the African man reveals that he is in fact African, the woman loses her well-manneredness and politeness asking how dark the man’s skin is, revealing that to her, the darkness of a man’s skin is a measure of what kind of person he is. ” “HOW DARK?” . . . I had not misheard . . . “ARE YOU LIGHT/OR VERY DARK?” Button B. Button A.” The woman immediately becomes ill-mannered and prejudiced towards the man. The writer compares the way the woman begins to treat the man to a machine, using the buttons in the telephone box as a metaphor for the question. When the man eventually answers the woman’s question with “west African sepia” it puts her into a stunned silence. When she admits she doesn’t know what that is and the man explains, it reveals that the woman is not as educated as she first appeared. It is ironic how the woman wants to know the colour of his skin to evaluate whether or not he can live in her rental property, while the man retains his composure throughout the conversation showing his better manners and a higher level of education, which is further illustrated by his better vocabulary. Wole Soyinka uses this piece of writing to show how wrong and offensive these stereotypes are to people. He does not only show that they are wrong, but ironically, can be more applicable to the people who hold these beliefs.
‘Bred in South Auckland’ by Glen Colquhoun clearly shows that many racial stereotypes exist. This connects with the stereotypes used in ‘Telephone Conversation’ although the use of stereotypes is more overt. The author describes himself as Maori, Pakeha, Asian and Samoan, using common stereotypes directed towards these races. Colquhoun uses a four stanza structure with a one line conclusion at the end of each stanza. In each stanza he uses easily identifiable racial stereotypes. “Last week I drove into a red light,/I did not slow down at a compulsory stop,/I changed lanes on the motorway and did not use my indicator.” A common derogatory stereotype towards Asians saying they’re bad drivers. Colquhoun is saying that he acts like all the cultures in the poem. The end of each stanza the conclusion line almost says the writer doesn’t like that people associate
him with the given culture with the use of an adjective. “Some people think I’m a blasted Asian!” Although the poet seems to be expressing quite strong frustration, at the end there is one line changes everything. “I think I’m the luckiest mongrel I know.” The author is showing that stereotypes may be true of a certain culture, but also that the stereotypical behavior can be true of anyone.
Just as in ‘Telephone’, Glen Colquhoun’s poem ‘Bred in South Auckland’ highlights racial stereotyping, and also shows it is alive and well New Zealand. On first reading the poem it’s quite difficult to tell who Colquhoun is writing about as he uses common stereotypes to describe the different parts of himself, then claims proud ownership of them all. This initial confusion prompts the reader to acknowledge their own stereotyping of people, but Colquhoun cleverly disarms any associated negativity by seeing the benefits of his ‘cultural’ diversity.
Overall, racism is a dark topic with a long, sinister history of injustice and murder. The connections between the texts I have studied have shown me racism is often caused by the stereotypes held by people that drive them to do something they would consider unacceptable and cruel in other circumstances. The practice of racism can almost be considered ironic, not to mention wrong, because of the source of the action most often comes from a stereotype which is misinformed and guided by fear. Often the negative stereotype at play can be more applicable to those who are being racist. All this aside, I think humanity does have the capacity to change and there is evidence of this in our societies today, most notably, President Barrack Obama, who is currently on his second term of office as the first black president of The United States of America. This example demonstrates a significant change to the racist beliefs that were illustrated in the first two studied texts – where once, a black man wouldn’t be trusted in the ‘wrong’ part of town. Now a black man has been elected by the people of America and is one of the most powerful men in the world today. Overall, I have learnt more about racism and racial stereotyping and I believe I understand it better. I will remember what I have learnt, be aware of my own racial stereotyping and that of others, to avoid prejudging people.