NARRATING RACISM A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF JOSEPH CONRAD’S HEART OF DARKNESS AND CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE’S AMERICANAH
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.
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