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BLACKNESS AND ROLE ASSIGNMENT IN ANDREA LEVY’S FRUIT OF THE LEMON AND SMALL ISLAND.

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Chapter One

Introduction

1.1 Background of the study

Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the colour of your skin to such extent that you bleach to get like the white man? Who taught you to hate yourself, the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the sole of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much that you don’t want to be around each other… you should ask yourself who taught you to hate what God gave you.

-Malcolm X

 

The import of Malcolm X’s speech delivered on May 5, 1962 is an apt description of this study on colour and its dynamics. Colour politics is directly related to skin pigmentation and its concomitant stratification which both function as a result of race consciousness in a multiracial society. America and Europe are examples of societies with multiracial distribution. In this situation, the black race is the worst hit because of the joint effort of Trans-Atlantic Slavery and other historic events that necessitated the mass migration of the black people from Africa to America and Europe. For these black immigrants and their descendants in America and Europe, racism is an everyday reality made manifest in different dimensions and experiences of people’s social existence. The colour hierarchy that values light complexions over the dark one specifically affects people with black skin as they are often treated and evaluated based solely on their physical traits.

Therefore, blackness acquires negative connotations in the European psyche as early as the third century. Stratification based on skin colour started during the Trans-Atlantic Slave period. The institution of slavery is justified by a belief system that marked whiteness as superior to all (Hill Mark 84). The consequence of this nefarious system has had a devastating effect on the psyche of even the people with shared ancestry. For instance, the mulattoes who have a deposit of black gene in their blood tend to deny every affiliation with blackness because of the implication of affirming the identity. In the words of Franklin Frazier, he says that the mulattoes are conscious of the distinctions between themselves and the dark slaves and believes that their white blood has placed them on a better position when compared with people of pure black ancestry. The people of African descent have been regarded by whites as black whether they are of mixed African ancestry or not. To be black in colour or to be of African race is to be dirty, ugly, evil, deadly and devilish while to be white is to be clean, beautiful, good, lively, pure, innocent and godly. This shows that “colorism” a term coined by Alice Walker in 1982 is still a sensitive and complex phenomenon in the lives of black people in Diaspora.

Similarly, Frantz Fanon as contained in “The Construction of Identity in Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon” through her work recorded the psychological damage suffered by the colonized people. She notes that the colonialists perpetuated the belief that “white” is the “norm” and “black” is the “Other” (Magdalena 5). The people of African decent have internalised white values to the extent that they turn to skin bleaching in other to be accepted into the mainstream of this society. True beauty is now given to fair people. For instance, in the world of modelling, white female models occupy the top strata in the Western societies while black females occupy the bottom rung. Dami Akinusi, discussed in Layers of Blackness: Colourism in the African Diaspora, confessed as a producer of television documentary on bleaching on how she tries to bleach her own skin as a teenager. For her, [She] was branded too dark by people that [she] met at the time [and] contemplated was [she] too dark to be successful? Too dark to be pretty? All of this different thing (cited in Gabriel 44.)

This same issue of negative connotation of blackness is what led Michael Jackson to change his original skin colour, which is medium brown during his youth to be fair because he wanted to be accepted by the white folks. He even created a dimple in his chin and changed the shape of his nose to look pointed just like that of the white. J. Randy Taraborrelli believes in his article “The Michael Jackson I Knew” that Jackson thought that his skin condition messed up his whole personality. He goes further to say that as a child, Jackson thought that he was ugly, his skin too dark and his nose too wide which made his insensitive father and brothers to call him “Big Nose”. Jackson told his associates that “the greatest joy [he] ever had is in knowing [he] had a choice about [his] face.” He described himself as a ‘work in progress’.  It has always been a mystery to many why Jackson, king of pop, changed his skin from black to white. Some argue that it is due to a disease called “Vitiligo” which causes white splotches on the skin. But this research has unveiled that it is due to one cause, racism. This is because his social acceptance and social relationship never improved after he transformed his skin to white, which shows that it is not about the colour per say, but about the stigma of being black in a racist white society.

Similarly, racial interaction and relationship became even worst for black people during the Enlightenment Age. The Enlightenment Age which took place between the late 17th and early 18th century, advocated freedom, democracy and reason as the primary values of the society, making a clear boundary between Europeans as possessors of intellect, morality and beauty and Africans as primitive, backward and ugly. This ended up creating the concept of European racial superiority (Gabriel 43). This situation was philosophised and strongly justified by the leading 17th and early 18th century philosophers like David Hume and Georg Hegel. For instance, in Deborah Gabriel’s reading of David Hume’s philosophy, she maintains that:

I am apt to suspect the Negros and in general all other species of men… to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There was never a civilised nation of any other complexion than Whites… there are Negro slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none discovered any symptoms of ingenuity. (43)

Consequently, Deborah Gabriel enunciates that Hegel’s view about the black race in quoting Hegel who observes that “Africans are less than human, because they are perpetually in a child-like state of unconsciousness where they are unaware of their existence as human” (Qtd in Gabriel 45).

This practice of judging black as inferior and seeing them as the “Other” has psychologically damaged the victims thinking, they no longer value or see the worth in them. In their struggles to recover from the damage caused by centuries of enslavement comes the issue of colour, which is another pernicious and internalised form of racism, where you are heavily judged based on your skin colour. The colour black becomes devalued that the shade of their skin literally controls their condition and future prospects; this brought more agony and psychological trauma on blacks in Diaspora. This explains why at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, the conference president, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, says in his closing statement…the systems of slavery and colonialism had the degrading and debilitating impact on those who are black… in an addendum, he makes himself clear that remedial action is necessary to correct the legacy of slavery and colonialism and all other forms of racism.  This is to show the damage that the denigration of blackness has had on the psyche of dark-skinned. In the words of Marcus Garvey of 1923, he asserts that

Some of us in America and West Indies and Africa believe that the nearer we approach the white man in colour the greater our social standing and privilege and what we should build up an “aristocracy” based upon caste of colour and not achievement in race. (Gabriel 7)

Blacks in Britain who are brought up to believe England is their mother country are disappointed, because they find post-war London prejudiced and unwelcoming. Britain arbitrarily established two racial divisions- white or “coloured (Hiro 24). The blacks in Britain are heavily judged by their skin colour. They are more disheartened when they remember that their relatives fought for Britain in World War II coupled with the fact that they are brought up in colonial schools to revere Britain. Britain shows West Indians and anyone who is not white that they do not belong and had never belonged in spite of their colonial education stressing loyalty to the British crown.

Andrea Levy made it clearer when she says: “My parents came from a class in Jamaica called “the coloured class. They came to Britain with a kind of notion that pigmentation represented class. They didn’t necessarily have more money or education, but because they were somehow closer to being white, this was seen as a badge of pride. My parents arrived here and were surprised to discover that they were considered black. No matter how light-skinned her parents were, theirs was still considered the only black family on their council estate near Arsenal” (Magdalena 5).

Having seen all these, the interest in Andrea Levy’s Friut of the Lemon and Small Island is specifically on the role assignment. This is because blacks in Britain have been assigned some degrading roles not necessarily because of colour but the composition of their race, of which colour is one part. Characters such as Faith, Wade, Mildred, Constance, etc (in Fruit of the Lemon) and Gilbert Joseph, Hortense Joseph, etc (in Small Island) are assigned certain roles which are less beneficial when compared to the ones attributed to the dominant(s) in their society. It is disheartening that British still see the black race as a slave and insignificant creature, who must die wretched doing degrading and menial jobs. These degrading roles shall be discussed fully in the textual analysis which appears in the chapter four of this research.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon and Small Island have been studied in the light of racism, treatment of the characters, otherness, quest for self, identity, alienation, hybridity, journey motif, while some have taken the biographical study of the two texts under study. However, this study explores the idea of role assignment as seen in the two texts. Here, the task is to examine what blackness means to the characters and the consequent role assignment as contained in Andrea Levy’s two novels: Fruit of the Lemon and Small Island using the critical race theory. These roles reveals that a black person living in whites dominated societies is a subalternized person whose identity is defined by another; a person denied of self.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to present a critical analysis of blackness and role assignment as seen in Andrea Levy’s two novels, Fruit of the Lemon and Small Island. The intention is to study the kind of roles, positions or duties given to people of black colour or African descent in English society. The study also intends to find out how selected characters in the texts under study have been disappointed, oppressed, subjugated and exploited by their whites counterparts through the kind of roles assigned to them as a result of their complexion as showcased in the two texts.

1.4 Scope of the Study

This research cover instances of blackness and show the roles and status of people with black skin especially as it is showcased in Andrea Levy’s two texts Fruit of the Lemon and Small Island. The reason for limiting the investigation to these two texts is to prevent the project from being ambiguous and to allow a detailed thematic preoccupation of these two texts with regard to the positions the black people occupy in the society they found themselves.

1.5 Significance of the study

This research paper will contribute to the existing public knowledge on Afro-Caribbean literature and black British literature.  It will also add to the already existing knowledge on the two texts and serve as a guide for other researchers who would like to carry out more investigations on the topic under study.

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