Culture and power intersect throughout the world to create connections and separations between people of different cultures. White Teeth is a novel written by Zadie Smith that tells a story about how culture and power coexist. Smith closely examines how culture and power play a part of everyday life. White Teeth takes place in London, UK, and it focuses on the lives of many individuals with different backgrounds and cultures. In the London from White Teeth there is a strong relationship between culture and power and it shows how they intersect. In the London portrayed in White Teeth power can dominate cultures, and dominant cultures can oppress and make other smaller cultures feel unwelcome.
Culture and power can be conflicting towards one another. Throughout this novel we can see how power clearly dominates over culture. Cultures can be often disregarded if it is a minority from where they are located. This novel illustrates how power often defeats culture. One way to show the superiority of power over culture is how culture plays a role in one’s community. Samad, a character from the book, is a Muslim from Bangladesh; he has been living in London since the end of World War 2. Samad has two twin boys, Magid and Millat, and they attend school in London. While they were in school they were supposed to participate in The Harvest Festival. Samad was unhappy about this because he wanted his children to be able to participate in other Bangladesh cultures and holidays that pertained to his religion. Samad brought up his unhappiness at a parent meeting at the school that the lack of different cultures was unfair and he said, “The Christian calendar has thirty-seven religious events. Thirty seven. The Muslim calendar has nine.
Only nine. And they are squeezed out by this incredible rash of Christian Festivals. Now my notion is simple. If we remove all the pagan festivals from the Christian calendar, there would be an average of… twenty days fredd up in which the children could celebrate Lailat-Al-Qadr in December, Eid-ul-Fitr in January, and Eid-ul-Adha in April, for example. And the first festival that must go, in my opinion, is this Harvest Festival business.” (White Teeth 109) Further along in the meeting they eventually cast a vote that decides if they will include Islamic holidays in the school calendar. A landslide outvoted Samad, 36-7, so the Islamic holidays were not included in the school calendar. From this we can observe how the culture of Muslims and their holidays can be ruled out by the fact that the community has more power. This happens because the people that are in power choose what they want to do and they do not care about the smaller minorities and they do not care to include them. Power can often overpower culture and it helps to make minority cultures less and less in everyday life.
Power alone can rule out minority cultures, although the power of certain dominant cultures can also oppress other cultures. In a place where there is a large majority of a specific culture and other smaller minority cultures, they larger one can often overpower the smaller one. We can see this by the way that the London culture looks down upon the culture of Jamaica. From the text we can observe how they are looked down upon from, “When they worshiped they were full of energy, moving like jumping beans, bawling in the aisles… yet when they worked they were sullen and uncooperative… The more Sir Edmund thought about it, the more it became clear that the situation was quite the opposite in England. One was impressed by the Jamaican’s faith but despairing of his work ethic and education. Vice versa, one admired the Englishman’s work ethic and education but despaired of his poorly kept faith. And now, as Sir Edmund turned to go back to his estate, he realized he was in a position to influence the situation—nay, more than that—transform it!” (White Teeth 253) Sir Edmund decided that these two different cultures could influence one another. Although that was not how things worked out.
Sir Edmund took some of the Jamaican people over to London to work in a factory out there alongside English managers. He hoped that these two cultures could learn from one another. However they did not, the Jamaican people could not help the Englishman with their faith and the English did not help with the Jamacain’s work ethic and education. The English were too prideful and thought there culture was more powerful and they didn’t really want anything to do with the Jamaican’s. Eventually the Jamaican’s were left hungry, and isolated in a country where they did not truly belong, their culture was too different compared to English culture. The English culture was much larger and stronger there in London and that helped to make to the Jamaican culture get pushed out and forced to change into the ways of the culture in London.
The power of some cultures cannot only just oppress, it can also make other cultures feel unwelcome. Magid often felt unwelcome in London and he tried to fit in with his community. Magid has roots that connect him to Bangladesh. He was born in London although he always felt embarrassed by his religion and culture, and he just wanted to fit in with the English culture. In order for Magid to fit in he changed his name to Mark Smith, and he had his fellow students call him by that name. His father, Samad, was very upset that he did not want to be recognized as a Bengali, so he decided that he wanted to send his son back “home” to Bangladesh. There he hoped he would learn more about his culture and he would be proud of it. When Magid was sent to Bangladesh he did not accept his culture, he rebelled against it. He did not become a Muslim, but he chose to be an atheist. Still he denied his culture and background because for far too long he just wanted to fit in with the English culture. He wanted to have more of an English culture because in England, the minority cultures were looked down upon.
Culture and power intersect all through the world. In White Teeth we can see how power can overrule culture, and dominant cultures can make other cultures feel oppressed and unwelcome. The power of communities, and government can overpower minority cultures into disregarding their culture and just following the culture the community wants. The community will not let other cultures be practiced throughout the community, so they will always be seen as a small group that nobody understands. Often the more dominant culture can oppress and make other smaller minorities feel like they are not welcome and they need to change their ways. Power and culture can often create conflicts in everyday life.