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Really, racism against the Black man has had a long history, although it ranks unarguably amongst the most unspeakable crimes in human history. The scourge has been deftly engraved on a discriminatory pyramid of ‘humanity’ raised by the West. Following this pyramid, being Black automatically marks one out for victimisation, and makes the victim ineligible to lay any claim whatsoever to the ‘human’ race; being Black qualifies one to suffer the slurs, injuries – physical, psychological, emotional, social, etc. - and indignities of racial discriminations.

Expectedly, racism has resonated with literary scholarship over the last century or even more. Right now, it can hardly be disputed that from not being given sufficient attention, racism and other race-related concerns have become, in literary scholarship, some of the dominant subjects upon which serious thought is expended; these issues have achieved paramountcy in contemporary scholarly discourse: one claim’s balance merely becomes a counterclaim’s disequilibrium. And following the very recent publication of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah (a narrative which, in its quest to explore racism and its variegated manifestations, flies readers across three continents of the world:  from Africa to Europe through America), a discerning mind can only but see that the dust racism raised has yet to completely settle; and that, consequently, the exploitative forms of oppressions willed into existence by the differing manifestations of racism are still very much here with us.

Already, in Decolonising Methodologies, Linda Smith has observed that research in the academia is “a site of struggle between the interests and ways of knowing of the West and the interests and ways of resisting of the Other” (2). Thus, looked at from a certain point of view, academic research in contemporary times can be described as nothing short of “fierce” encounters between the West and the Other, between the Orient and the Occident.

However, this research is not merely what Walter Rodney graphically identifies in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa as “a work about European oppressors and African victims” (xii); it is also not a documentation of guilts or accusations; rather, it is a careful examination of evidence as made manifest in selected literary texts. It highlights issues of racism as represented in the literary works of varying racial and cultural perspectives, but more pointedly in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah. Throughout, it considers both the obvious and subtle ways through which racism has continued to indiscernibly define and prefigure nearly all facets of Euro-America’s engagements with the Black man, and particularly, how racism shields the narrative voice in Heart of Darkness from relating a fair account of being of the natives in the text. As the work progresses, one witnesses a clear evidence to assert that stereotypical beliefs about the Black man still holds sway in the West of today; and that there seems to be deliberate effort at ensuring that these stereotypes unquestionably aspire to - and achieve - the status of truth and social acceptability. Anchored on the stipulations of post-colonial literary theory, this work therefore provides textual evidence with which to challenge the often unstated assumptions – both lay and academic – that racism is either being overhyped these days or has been completely eradicated.

Aside from arguing that Joseph Conrad’s narrative tells vigilant readers more about the West than it actually does about Africa, it questions the “neutrality” of the narrative voice in Heart of Darkness. And, consequently, calls for interpretive restructuring in the minds of the readers of the text.

As a reality check of some sort on racism, the work targets primarily at furthering ongoing debates on the discourse on racism; and this is borne out of a conviction that discussions on the subject ought not be a one-off task that is signed on and off at irregular intervals. Thus, this work is aimed at shedding new light on the complex and increasingly imperceptible ways of manifestation of racism as represented in these primary texts; in the end, though, it morphs into a rallying “cry” for all to, more than ever before, re-ignite interest in racism as a contemporary challenge which ought to relate conspicuously with Africa’s contemporary scholarship priorities.

Chapter One: Introduction

1.1       Racism: An Introductory Overview

Unarguably, racism as a subject of inquiry has dominated – and continues to dominate – discussions in the academia, and even beyond. At a cursory glance, and especially following the depth of research and effort channelled towards its elimination, one may be tempted to hurriedly dismiss its continued existence in this era of globalization and submit that racism has been thoroughly thrashed, convinced that it no longer retains any status of validity as a subject upon which scholars and researchers should exercise thought. In this regard, therefore, it is not unusual to hear some express sentiments to the effect that racism as a challenge to humanity has been defeated. For instance, in Chimamanda Adichie’s latest literary output, Americanah, one of the characters, distinctively described as “a dreadlocked white man” (4) is very uncomfortable with racism as a subject even for a casual conversation, and he swiftly avers that racism “is totally overhyped these days, black people need to get over themselves, it’s all about class now, the haves and the have-nots” (4).

 At any rate, this “dreadlocked white man” is merely one out of the many who currently hawk this opinion. In fact, just a few lines later, another character, “the man from Ohio” (4), also defensively argues that the “only race that matters [now] is the human race” (4). Clearly, the claims and counter-claims as to whether the scourge of racism has been eradicated or not continues to generate and dominate arguments. But disagreements and debates are integral parts of the academia; and literature, by its very nature, has never been a quiet enterprise; it has appropriately shown itself to be a “noisy” adventure, and, in the view of this research, the noisier, the better. Thus, it is not odd that literary texts continue to generate endless controversies, and tempers flare so high over discourse formatives in works of literary art.

1.2       The Doctrine of Racism: Towards a Balance in Definition

Like very many concepts, opinions on racism have always been polarised. It has been defined as practices, views and actions that reflect the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called “races,” and that members of a chosen race share attributes which make the group less desirable, more desirable, inferior or superior. In other words, racism is built on the belief that all members of one racial group have superior traits and abilities specific to the group. It permits ranking of races based on superiority. In fact, supremacist ideology is the bedrock of racism.

Thus, in his Race, Science and Politics, Benedict Rose submits that racism is “the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to hereditary inferiority and another group is destined to hereditary superiority” (52-53). Noticeable in Benedict’s submission here is an inextricable link between racism and “nature” as an unquestionable justification for the superiority of one race, on the one hand, and inferiority of another race, on the other hand. Consequently, perpetrators of racism have basked in the euphoria that they are mentally, culturally, biologically and even physically superior to members of other races. In this regard, therefore, the views of Johnson H.H. is worthy of being reproduced here, for it lends credence to the point being highlighted. Again, as a White man, Johnson’s view below represents, to a very large extent, the West’s perception of Africa and its occupants. He writes in his A History of Colonization of Africa by Alien Races that the:

Negro in general is born a slave. He is possessed of great physical strength, docility, cheerfulness of disposition, a short memory for sorrow and cruelties...Above all, he can toil hard under the hot sun and in unhealthy climates of the torrid zone. He has little or no race-fellowship, that is to say, he has no sympathy for other negroes (146).

This despicable view is largely responsible for the West’s desire for continued enslavement – mental, religious, and otherwise - of Blacks, even after the avowed abolition of slave trade, and attainment of political independence by all nations of the African continent.

As a term, “racism” is often used in a loose and unreflective manner to denote the hostile and negative attitude or feelings of one ethnic group towards another group. Taken a step further, the term can equally refer to actions that result from such negative attitudes. As evidence from human history shows, racist theories are often evoked to explain away one group’s antipathy towards another group. Adolf Hitler, for instance, built up racist theories to justify genocidal actions against Jews and Europeans. In the same vein also, racist theories were built up in the United States of America to justify laws meant to keep Whites and Blacks separated and considered unequals for a very long time – even now!

Furthermore, Fredrickson George in Racism: A Short History laboriously delves into a genealogy of racism, and explains that the term first came into common usage in the 1930s when a new word was required to describe the theories on which Adolf Hitler and the Nazis based their persecution of the Jews. His account, however, is not only questionable, but can do anything other than sustain attention. For one thing, Chinua Achebe has described Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – published in 1902! – as a racist narrative. Consequently, and following Achebe’s assessment, one can argue that the challenge of racism has been with humanity much earlier than Fredrickson would have all of us believe. And he does not further this view of his too long, for a few pages later, he soft-pedals and submits that,

As is the case with many of the terms historians use, the phenomenon {of racism} existed before the coinage of the word that we use to describe it. But our understanding of what beliefs and our behaviours are to be considered “racist” has been unstable. Somewhere between the view that racism is a peculiar modern idea without much historical precedent and the notion that it is simply a manifestation of the ancient phenomenon of tribalism or xenophobia may lie a working definition that covers more than scientific or biological racism but less than the kind of group prejudice based on culture, religion, or simply a sense of family or kinship (12-13).

Effiong Essien, however, digs much deeper and chooses to toe another lane.  In his Concepts in Race and Ethnic Studies, Essien posits that racism “started in the 16th century with the start of the transatlantic slave trade” (96), and  highlights further that it was “directed against blacks and propped up as part of the efforts to justify the ignoble trade on black slaves” (96). He further argues that the ideology of racism became propagated to ensure continued domination. With time, the belief began to grow in strength, like a disease.  In fact, Charles Wilson Jr. agrees in Race and Racism in Literature that like a disease left unchecked, “racism begins to assume a life of its own, suppressing the more natural penchant toward harmonious interaction and leaving in its wake the scarred emotional remains of a battle-weary humanity” (ix). Thus, with the passage of time, racism began to assume a very deadly dimension. Here, again, is Effiong Essien: the 19th century [racism] had become a matter of gospel truth, coupled with the doctrine of evolution, and many biased writings by anthropologists and travellers about the ways of life of conquered peoples added impetus to the doctrine of racism. The effect of these doctrines reverberated into the 20th century and led to unspeakable atrocities against humanity (98).

This having been said, however, it was Bethany Bryson of the Department of Sociology at Princeton University in the United States of America, who clearly measures racism on the scale of morality. In “Multiculturalism as a Moving Boundary: Literature Professors Redefine Racism,” Bryson hints at the difficulty inherent in arriving at an all-encompassing definition and resorts, rather, to viewing racism as a symbolic boundary. She writes that:

I re-conceptualise “racism” as a socially constructed moral boundary rather than an individual attribute defined a priori by the researcher, and I show that this boundary distinguishes racists from non-racists on a moral basis (but it does so only to the extent that the indicators of racism are clearly defined and widely accepted within a given population... [T]he new definitions of racist attributes are not yet crystallized. Thus the boundary between the pure and the impure remains blurred.

Bryson further argues that racism marks an important moral boundary within the academia, and that the location of that boundary is now strongly “contested and unstable.”

1.3       Racism and Colonialism

A clear link can arguably be established between racism and colonialism. In fact, in order to adequately grasp the political foundation upon which racism rests, one needs a thorough understanding of the mechanics - colonial and neo-colonial-   of Africa’s relationship with the West. As a point of fact, the portrait of Africa painted by the colonial powers before and during domination was one of a people who, on the eve of European occupation, were decentralised politically, living in small villages, often naked, revering in witchcraft, engaging in senseless wars and living in perpetual terror of their neighbours. This portrait portrayed colonialism as an uncommon blessing instead of what exactly it is: domination.

 In any case, Europe has never thought of Africa as having a history or literature. In 1962, an eminent European historian, Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, once bluntly pronounced in his “The Rise of Christian Europe” that:

...perhaps in the near future there will be some African history to teach. But at the present time there is none; there is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness... and darkness is not the subject of history.

Shocking as it is, Trevor-Roper’s utterance was not made in error. Prior to the documentation of his blatant falsehood, another European scholar of African history, Margery Perham, had documented her own account of ignorance. In 1951, Perham writes in “The British Problem in Africa” that,

...until the very recent penetration of Europe the greater part of the {African} continent was without the wheel, the plough or the transport animal; without stone houses or clothes except skins; without writing and so without history (2).

Built upon the erroneous ideology of the West as a race superior to Africans in all dimensions, colonialism therefore ensured the domination of Africa by Western colonial administrators. And writing on this lane of thinking, Michael Crowder, in his West Africa Under Colonial Rule, states that,

One of the most important features of the colonial period in Africa was the assumption by the conqueror of his racial superiority over those he had conquered, an assumption based largely on his manifest technological superiority. In the case of the Anglo-Saxon, however, this attitude had much deeper roots, going back to Elizabethan times as the work of Philip Mason had shown (5-6).

But a few lines earlier, Michael Crowder had clearly made an instructive connection between racism and colonialism, and hinted at the race pyramid which the West had then raised. Thus he submits that,

Technological superiority was invariably associated with a feeling of moral and racial superiority. Christian Europe, which had abolished slave trade, felt itself morally superior to heathen Africa, which seemed to seek every opportunity to continue it. This sense of moral superiority was reinforced by theories of racial superiority which placed the white man at the top of the hierarchy, {and} the black man at the bottom (5).

Needless to say, not even the fear of God, highly highlighted in the teachings of Christianity, could stop “Christian Europe” from having a racist view of Africa and a biased system of racial stratification anchored on ethnocentrism. Here, again, is Crowder:

The missionaries tended to emphasize, even invented, the worst features of African society when they lectured or preached in churches at home, for descriptions of a heroic struggle against the powers of darkness would encourage the parishioner to drop a penny in the collection box for their missions. For the general {European} public an Africa, where law and order reigned, where people lived in large towns and wore clothes...was far less romantic and did not make such an appealing subject for the travel book and later the film (12-13).

One of the reasons Crowder’s opinion is admirable and desirable in this research is that he himself hails from the West, and is an undisputed son of the European soil. Therefore, it would be difficult to accuse him of being impartial and expending thought on an “imaginary problem of racism.” Making the above submission was, however, not easy for Crowder, for he was threatened and accused by his fellows of being “anti-British.” In fact, he himself expressed the difficulties he encountered while writing his West Africa Under Colonial Rule, and he captured this in the “Preface” to his text: write a book about West Africa under colonial rule, especially if one is a subject of one of the former colonial powers {is difficult}. How difficult was bro

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