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

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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:

…by 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:

…to 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 brought home to me when I gave a lecture on the subject of this book to the officers of the Royal Sierra Leone Military Force. The one British officer present at the lecture stood swiftly to attention during question-time and demanded that I withdrew what he considered my anti-British remarks (xiii).

Interestingly, if a European son can be accused of making “anti-British remarks” because it is unfavourable to Europe, one can now easily understand why any challenge to racism – especially by Africans-  is often met with stiff opposition. Interestingly, when Africans voice their concerns about racism, they are more often than not accused by the West of inventing imaginary ills. The quest by the West to maintain a cherished position as “overseers” of values and morals in the world has been supplemented by theoretical and creative strategies, including Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and these strategies are aimed primarily at ensuring that one race – Whites – remains perpetual teachers while the suppressed – Blacks – remains perpetual pupils.

Racism creates double and unfair standards or codes of conduct for human membership: on the one hand, if those who are tagged “below” consider themselves human, then those who are “above” are super-humans – even demigods; and if, on the other hand, those who are “above” consider themselves humans, then those who are “below” are sub-humans, and merely a few steps above wild animals. This habit of thinking, which is unarguably given life by racism or what Frantz Fanon in his Wretched of the Earth aptly calls “racist culture,”   is the undeclared reason that largely resulted in colonialism and neo-colonialism.  It is also for this reason that Jean-Paul Satre, in his “Preface” to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, not only declares that the West’s entire “ideas… are conditioned by a thousand-year-old oppression” (21), but equally goes on to give voice to the feelings of many when he writes that,

…Europe has multiplied divisions and opposing groups, has fashioned classes and sometimes even racial prejudices, and has endeavoured by every means to bring about and intensify the stratification of colonized societies (10).

A critical mind is not always surprised to hear the fair and honest testimonies of the West. And Satre’s, unarguably, is one of those. His observations, to say the least, are incontrovertible.

1.4       Racism as an Undefeated Challenge

In the “Foreword” to Essien’s Concepts in Race and Ethnic Studies, Emeka .J. Otagburuagu observes that the challenges of the 21st century cannot be found very far off from where the trouble of racial discrimination is located, and he further argues that humanity has yet to find a permanent cure for this hydra-headed scourge. Otagburuagu, therefore, agrees that the:

 

Challenges of the 21st century revolve more around issues on ethnocentrism. Despite all the claims to an emerging socio-political order that sees the world as a global village, the miasma of racial discrimination has created a cultural divide which tends to promote conflict among the nations of the world (viii).

But Otagburuagu’s submission above is, again, not one without a company. In an address to mark the annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination a few months back on March 21, 2014, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was quick to agree that racism “remains a dangerous threat.” And Stephanie Coutrix, a reporter with the UN Radio, reports that the UN chief called instantly for concerted effort in order to combat this bone-chilling menace. He quotes Ki-moon clearly as saying thusly:

I call on people, especially political, civic, religious leaders to strongly condemn messages and ideas based on racism, racial superiority or hatred, as well as those that incite racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related tolerance. On this day {March 21, 2014} let us acknowledge that racial discrimination remains a dangerous threat and resolve to tackle it through dialogue, inspired by the proven ability of individuals to respect, protect and defend our rich diversity as one human family (italics mine).

Implicit in Ban Ki Moon’s address is the call for combined effort in the quest for a yet-to be-found solution to the problem of racism, hence his call for a resolution “to tackle it through dialogue.” It is the opinion in this investigation that one of the solutions towards tackling the challenge of racism is identifying the differing levels of its manifestation with a view to tackling the menace. In this regard, therefore, this research shall focus on the differing levels of representations of racism in literature, but more particularly as depicted in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chimamanda Adichie’s latest literary output, Americanah.

 

  • Racism in the Twenty-First Century

Racism is said to have assumed a more terrible dimension in the early twentieth century following the rise and fall of what George M. Fredrickson aptly regards in his Racism: A Short History as “overtly racist regimes” (4) in the southern region of America. And following the passage of segregation laws and restrictions on the voting rights of Black Americans, the African-Americans were reduced to lower-caste status; this, in spite of constitutional amendments that made them equal citizens. Consequently, extreme racist propaganda represented Black males as ravenous beasts lusting after White women, and this served to justify the practice of lynching usually reserved for Blacks accused of “crimes” against the colour line. As time went on, racist propaganda grew in brutality and became more sadistic. The American state maintained a racist regime which ensured prevention of conjugal union of Whites with those of known or discernible African ancestry out of fear of what they considered sexual contamination or race impurity.

Again, the moral revulsion of people across the world, including in Africa, against what Adolf Hitler and the Nazis did, reinforced by scientific discoveries debunking racist genetics, discredited the use of science to justify the practice, a practice which had been influential in the United States of America and Europe. After the Second World War in 1945, explicit racism came under unprecedented attack by the new African nations, and this resulted in the initiation of the decolonization process by Africans and the Asians. Thus, civil rights movements succeeded in outlawing legalised racial segregation and discrimination in the 1960s.

However, contrary to reasonable expectations, racist regimes survived the Second World War in South Africa and resurfaced in the garb of apartheid in 1948. Laws were passed banning marital and sexual relations between the White minority and Black majority. Separate residential areas became required for people of mixed race or coloureds. But the climate of global opinion in the wake of the Holocaust prompted apartheid apologists to avoid straightforward biological racism and to rest their racist ideology on cultural rather than physical differences.

As one may have observed, one point that continues to stand out in the foregoing is that somehow, always, racism survives! Therefore, one has tangible reasons and evidence to submit that racism has yet to end, and has even assumed subtle but more dangerous dimensions. Interestingly, in his “Foreword” to Arun Kundnani’s The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st-Century Britain, Sivanandan A. declares that “if {racism} once functioned as a rationale for slavery, it today serves as a justification for imperialism” (vii). This observation of Sivanandan is taken a step further by Ngugi wa Thiong’o who, in his “The Ideology of Racism: War on Peace Within and Among Nations,” locates core racism in Europe’s contemporary engagements with Africa, even as he highlights its various but subtle ways of manifestations. Ngugi writes that

[Racism] is ideological weapon and it comes wrapped up in many forms: as religion, the arts, the media, culture, values, beliefs, even as feelings. [It] is one of the most devastating of all the ideological weapons wielded by imperialism today and it is meant to safeguard the entire system of exploitation of the many by the few in one nation and among nations… The great divide between the West and the ‘Third World’… wears a racial camouflage: it is largely the whites of European stock versus the dark races of the earth… ideology and practice of racism facilitates… exploitation (135-138).

Here, Ngugi wa Thiong’o makes a vital link between racism and imperialism. In other words, racism is intrinsically embedded in the whole ideology of imperialism. Therefore, even the academia cannot be said to be free from the scourge of racism. As a demonstration of exploitation and domination, in his “Racism in Literature,” Ngugi further writes that racism is capable of “moulding and remoulding…personalities and…perceptions [of the exploited] to make them view the world in accordance with the needs and programmes of the exploiter and the oppressor” (144). Although it can be said that the process of decolonization and resistance to racism had since commenced in Africa, it is yet to achieve complete success. Ngugi, again, in “The Universality of Local Knowledge,” explains how this process of decolonization works itself out in the academia:

Western scholarship for instance has not escaped from the racism which necessarily arose out of those structures [of domination and control and resistance within nations and between nations and races over the last four hundred years].Disciplines like anthropology and ethnography initially meant the study of those remote communities which seem to have some remote resemblance to ‘ours’; perhaps they are the missing social link to “our arrival at the twentieth century of the West and the rest of us,” to borrow a phrase from Chinweizu’s book of the same title. The persistence of a certain vocabulary – the primitive, the tribal community, simpler societies – is a reminder of the remote kinship between scholarship and colonialism… The world of academic study is still almost wholly dominated by that which has been initiated from the languages and centres of power in the West (46).

But a page later, Ngugi, this time, carefully aims his observations at the academia and merely hints at the possibility of complete victory:

It is important to remember that social and intellectual processes, even academic disciplines, act and react on each other not against a spatial and temporal ground of stillness but of constant struggle, of movement, and change which brings about more struggle, more movement, and change, even in human thought (46-7).

Consequently, the battle against racism should – as a matter of fact – continue for, as we have noted earlier, racism, somehow, always survives.

In her very revealing and well-researched book, Professional Savages: Captive Lives and Western Spectacle, Roslyn Poignant identifies another method of manifestation of racism which one may ordinarily take for granted. Poignant writes that the race-specific act of exhibitionists or the processing of human beings as voyeuristic and mercantile objects dates back to the early 17th century, from 1619. She states further that the “auction block” was the original cornerstone of the modern day zoo, and that the block was created primarily for the outright sale or barter of the African slave. The zoo, she observes, is employed for the purpose of repeatable and therefore lucrative exhibition of non-Western persons. And, right now, the deliberate trend of displaying all things African in zoos – the man-made home of wild animals – has become even more poignant, and this is exemplified in recent exhibition of “African Village” at an Augsburg zoo in Germany on June 9- 12, 2005. This mode of display, unarguably, is a deliberate and racist attempt at presenting a miniature Africa in an open space in a zoo. The zoo, therefore, has assumed the zero degree of the littlest dignity accorded the humanity of the African, the practical “show space” for the animalization of the African mind. The zoo, which universally is acknowledged as the scientific and social space suitable for the display of the alien, unknown and the inscrutable, has become the new agency of Western neo-colonialism in the 21st century. In the very words of Roslyn Poignant,

…traces of many of these indigenous [Africans] remain in European anthropological journals and in photographs archived and exchanged between scientific colleagues, and over subsequent years they have been frequently recycled in popular geographical journals, where they are reduced to the anonymity of being unnamed examples of a type” (189).

These and many other efforts of the West are metaphysical functions for the perpetuation of the false theory of racial superiority in the age of globalisation in the twenty-first century.

1.6       Why the Menace Persists: Towards a Holistic Understanding of Racism 

Understandably, it is ironical that despite the plumes of outrage against racism by governments, rights groups and individuals, the scourge somehow continues to exert terrible influence on humanity, particularly the Black man – and wherever he may live. One would reasonably expect that following the advent of globalization and the Internet which have allegedly turned the vast universe into a “global village,” humanity should have had an impressive knowledge of itself and better appreciate the diversities which have been said to be the spice of life. But far from that, racism has not only survived, but has continued to wax even stronger. Ngugi wa Thiong’o has informed us in his perceptive writings, particularly in his essay, “Racism in Literature,” that the scourge of racism uses “each and every myth disguised as education, history, philosophy, religion, aesthetics, to bolster its hegemony on the one hand; and to scatter, confuse and even lead astray the entire resistance hegemony of the other sections” (147) of the exploited. He discloses further that the West has carefully constructed

…a picture of the universe which bolsters their conception of their place and role in society and in the universe; their conception of the place and the role of all the other people in that universe; and furthermore they will try to sell, by every ideological, educational and cultural means at their disposal, that picture as the eternal, unchanging truth about the nature of the universe (147).

Racism creates stereotypical beliefs about members of other social groups on the basis of racial origins. These stereotypes, although baseless in the face of scientific evidence, grow into the status of “unchanging truth” because members of the prejudicial group insist through various means that they are true and then become unabashed in their actions. In his Race and Racism in Literature, Charles E. Wilson Jnr. makes an expose of the subtle ways through which racism could be identified, and creates an indisputable connection between cultural bias, ignorance and racism:

Understanding culture and the danger of cultural bias is key in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of race and racism. Subconscious cultural biases, manifested in misunderstanding the true nature of culture, often inform racist behaviours, especially those behaviours that result in institutional forms of racism. Confronting cultural bias leads to confronting race prejudice and initiates the process of snuffing it out (xiv).

This largely explains why racism at every level of manifestation is difficult to confront, and why also its perpetrators are always resistant to “unfavourable” evidence, especially the one arrived at in the light of scientific research. In fact, a signpost shown very recently on the television service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has the following defensive inscription: “Anti-racist is a code word for Anti-White.” However, in response to this ignorance and consequent resistance, Achebe’s wise words in “The Truth of Fiction” shall suffice: “When a desperate man wishes to believe something however bizarre or stupid, nobody can stop him. He will discover in his imagination [as opposed to reality] a willing and enthusiastic accomplice” (105).

What is more, in Concepts in Race and Ethnic Studies, Effiong Essien, once more, documents a reasonable perspective on the reason why racism has persisted despite efforts to snuff it out:

Whenever there have been conspicuous differences in ranks among persons living in the same society and these raise embarrassing questions, sets of ideas and beliefs or ideologies are usually formulated and advanced to explain the rankings. For instance, when the Muslim Arabs, advanced into tropical Africa and carted away millions of black slaves, the Arabs felt the need to justify their actions. The justification that came handy to them was that blacks were idolaters and therefore liable to holy war and enslavement (123).

1.7       Racism in this Research

Following the view strongly held by some scholars that racism has got no stable and all-encompassing definition but is rather a scavenger ideology that gains its power from an ability to pick out ideas and values from other sets of values in specific socio-historical contexts, the conception of racism in this research, therefore, has two major components: difference and power. This originates out of a mind-set that regards “them” as different from “us” in ways that are unbridgeable. This sense of difference provides a motive or justification for using power advantage to treat the ethnoracial “Other” in ways that are cruel and unjust, especially when compared to members of the powerful group. And as Adichie’s latest literary output, Americanah, clearly shows, the effects of this nexus of attitude range from unofficial but pervasive social discrimination, exclusion and forced deportation.

In this investigation, furthermore, concentration shall be made on racism in Europe, America and its colonial extensions in Africa, especially as pointedly expressed in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (published in 1902) and Adichie’s Americanah (published in 2013). This is primarily because the unrecognisable logics of racism are carefully worked out, elaborately demonstrated and carried out to its ultimate extremes in these two texts – separated by more than a century – while at the same time being condemned and resisted from within the same socio-cultural context. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, careful readers are wont to encounter intense prejudice toward Black Africans and this could present an erroneous precondition for racism as an ideology or worldview to thrive without the complementary narrative of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah.  Under the shadow of racism, therefore, this investigation presents these two narratives in clearer and proper perspectives, and with the primary aim of exposing negative stereotypes and highlighting factual inaccuracies about the Black man in particular and Africa in general, especially as depicted in our selected narratives.

1.8       Research Problem

It has been a century and some more years since Joseph Conrad unleashed his controversial Heart of Darkness upon the world in 1902, and, yet, racism has continued to generate and occupy conspicuous space in contemporary engagements with literary scholarship. Very early on in 1977, Chinua Achebe, after identifying Conrad his in An Image of Africa as a “thoroughgoing racist” (12), was quick to make the following observations on the matter of racism:

…this simple truth [of Conrad’s racism in Heart of Darkness] is glossed over in criticisms of his work…due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked…A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Kurtz (12-13).

Achebe’s observation here that racism in Conrad has gone “completely unremarked” and “is glossed over in criticisms of his work” deserves a more adequate attention. And, as if he had not made his point, he further submits – a few lines later – that Conrad’s “obvious racism has, however, not been addressed. And it is high time it was!”(14).

Even after the very high regard accorded to his broad-minded essay – which was later published in a book form as An Image of Africa – Achebe was still convinced that racism, as a monster, was yet to be defeated. Elsewhere, in the “Preface” to his Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, he volubly emphasises that “I am not so naive as to think that I have slain the monster of racist habit with one stroke of the essay” (x).

Furthermore, Chimalum Nwankwo lends credence to Chinua Achebe’s observation above when he affirms in “The Muted Index of War in African Literature and Society” that

There is still much work to be done by African writers [and critics, by implication] for a needed harvest, however grim, which could serve as an index for a more comprehensive study and understanding of the nature of the crises bedevilling the African continent(2).

Although Chimalum Nwankwo makes specific reference to critical works on war in Nigerian literature, the point he makes can be fittingly applied to racism in literature, too. And just a few pages later, although with specific reference to the African writer’s response to his socio-political realities, he states that “what [Africans] have produced in relation to its teeming and turbulent and volatile population is still disproportionately inadequate. One hopes and wishes for more exploratory works” (7). Undoubtedly, one of Africa’s current “socio-political realities” is the challenge of racism and its differing levels of manifestation. And one can rightly state that with regard to this scourge and Africa’s response to the relationship with the West, one – as Nwankwo would say – “hopes and wishes for more exploratory works.”

Clearly, then, the subject of racism has continued to generate and dominate discussions and academic inquiries, even in disciplines other than literature, and particularly within the African continent. Consequently, scholars – particularly those from the West- have accused and continued to accuse their African counterparts of expending much sought-after mental energy upon an “imaginary problem of racism” instead of focusing attention on efforts geared towards ensuring that the human race wins in the battle against the nuclear race. But as Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah, published 111 years after Heart of Darkness in 2013 clearly demonstrates, racism still remains a valid and necessary subject for academic investigation, for it has continued to define – and influence – Europe’s total perception of Africans and everything – including scholarship – that flaunts an African tag.

In fact, strongly held in some quarters is the view that racism has now assumed a subtle but more dangerous dimension and, therefore, begs for a careful and thorough investigation. This research delivers on that expectation- and does more, too. Specifically, it aims to find out if the passage of time has caused an erasure of racist feelings of animosity and exploitation in the minds of the West against Africa and Africans. Again, it aims to shoot holes in virtually every documented opinion which clearly holds that racism is a problem of history and, by implication, a problem of the past. It further attempts to present a historical perspective to contemporary problems of racial conflict, transcending continental boundaries to show how easily racist inclinations can pervade the broader society.

As a valid contribution to the debate on racism, this investigation sets out to demonstrate that, in spite of the avowed decline in public support for racist attitudes (especially as it relates to relations between Europe and the rest of us), racism in its varying forms of manifestation, remains embedded in the West’s psyche and perception of Afric

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