Narrative Fiction On Racism In America Of The 21st Century

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Racism is a serious problem in many societies all around the world which, can take place in just anywhere such as in schools, colleges, workplaces especially, in multicultural countries like America. Racism can be defined simply as a belief, attitude and action that subordinates a certain group of people based on their race (Wolf, n. d.). Racism is not a new concept as it had happened to people for many years prior to the post-modern era.

Racism in the post- modern world has not disappeared, instead, it has worsen over the years as racism today may come in many different forms such as discrimination, hatred, prejudice, stereotyping and more towards groups of different race, religion, nationality, skin colour and origin. As a result, racism makes people feel uncomfortable especially in a society where people practice racist acts openly. Therefore, to comment and criticize on the behaviour of society in regards to racism, narrative fiction is being used as a medium for writers to convey and reveal the reality of people who are practicing racist acts and also victims who are facing racism acts by creating characters of different race, religion, nationality, skin colour and so on to challenge readers perception of racism and the consequences of racism imposed on victims, especially towards minority groups in multicultural countries. Racial discrimination, xenophobia, stereotyping and physical assaults are some of the acts used in narrative fictions to portray what victims of racism go through when faced with racist behaviours, attitudes and actions practiced by racists in the real world.

As a literary theme, racism in the post-modern era happens more frequent and more openly than ever compared to the years prior to the post-modern era. Narrative fictions on racism is not a new genre in novels but rather it has existed long ago before the 21st century but differs in the scope and visibility of the genre as it has changed towards modern times. The main focus of this paper is to prove on the unchanging role of narrative fictions in addressing mankind’s unending search for answers to questions on morality in portraying different dimensions of racism in America of the 21st century.

During the 17th and 18th century of America, racism in the form of slavery was practiced as African slaves helped in building the new nation into an economic powerhouse through crops such as tobacco and cotton. In the 19th century, slave rebellions occurred within the system led by Gabriel Prosser in 1800 and by Denmark Vesey in Charleston in 1822. However, slave rebellions which terrified the white slaveholders most, were led by Nat Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in August 1831. Turner’s group had 75 blacks that managed to kill 60 whites in a span of two days. However, in North America, there was an increased repression of southern blacks that only made the situation a lot worse and caused the abolitionist movement to grow.

In the 1830’s until the 1860’s, the movement of abolishing slavery became stronger in America when it was led by free blacks such as Frederick Douglass and white supporters such as William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the radical newspaper called The Liberator and Harriet Beecher Stowe who had published a bestselling anti-slavery novel entitled Uncle Tom’s Cabin (‘Slavery in America, ‘ 2019). Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, in the 19th century by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which is a fiction that tells a story about southern families and their treatment to slaves which are sometimes benevolent but often cruel that comes in two volumes and comments on the harsh conditions for African Americans who were enslaved.

In this classic novel, Stowe wanted to portray the “the problem of evil” which was the enslavement of human beings. This sets Stowe into searching answers and questioning mankind’s role on morality. Therefore, to complete her goal, she wrote a story in a dramatic fashion as she did not want to merely portray slavery as monstrously wrong. Then, she wrote the novel in a way that is in conflicting in the force of what she knew was powerful, the love of Christ. In short, the novel is about the conflict between the evilness of slavery and the goodness of Christian love (‘Critical Essays Themes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ‘ n. d.). Uncle Tom, a protagonist character who is portrayed as honest, caring, loving and kind-hearted enough that is willing to do anything to fight slavery without causing any violence.

Unfortunately, the Uncle Tom died as a martyr as he had sacrificed his life fighting, in order to free other slaves. Uncle is also idolize by other slaves and his good qualities make other slaves feel better (‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ‘ n. d). This classic novel indicates that racism in the form of slavery is as serious as races like the blacks were discriminated back then. In the post-modern era today, it makes no difference as racist acts had increased in numbers in multicultural countries and injustice does not only befall on the black race but rather other races as well. Therefore, the society in which was portrayed in the classic novel of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has failed to observe morality values.

Another renowned novel of the 19th century, that conveys a similar message of racism in the form of slavery to the readers, would be Clotel which was published in 1853 by William Wells Brown, who was known as the first African-American to publish a novel.

In Clotel, Brown mainly focuses on the experiences of a slave woman called Curer and her two slave daughters, Clotel and Althesa and what they had to go through in life as slaves. In this novel, Brown had presented issues faced by many slaves which are women who had entered relationships with their white raced master and bore children with them. Even so, the women is not allowed to experience any freedom. Besides that, Brown had also used different white race characters to explain on the different opinions and sides of slavery. For example, a character named Jefferson from the novel, was a preacher and a hypocritical Christian face of slavery where, he uses the Bible to justify that slavery has no interest in freeing slaves.

In contrast, his daughter, Clotel is an abolitionist who has plans on freeing captured slaves when her father finally dies. Another example would be a character from the novel named Horatio Green, who is Clotel’s master, who falls in love with her, gets her pregnant, promised a marriage then sells her off at a market. All security Clotel had was gone when Green married a white woman who demands that Clotel must be sold. This portrays the tension between white women and black slave women as competition. Black slave women had no choice but to be of jealousies of white women. Here, Brown portrayed the fate that befell on black slaves especially on the tragic life of slave women and what they had to go through (‘Clotel Summary, ‘ n. d.). In short, Brown included issues on gender, races and slavery in distinctive ways in the absurdities and cruelties of slavery.

In the two novels mentioned above, the act of racism in the form of slavery is being portrayed as white is perceived as the more superior race than the race of the black. In the period of the two novels, people of the black race were usually seen as slaves although there were also slaves that come from the white race back then. However, most of the people of the black race were slaves and there was tension going on between the two races which are the white race and the black race.

The tension between the two races was not seen as socially and morally accepted within society and that is why writers of the two novels began writing on the problem of racism to express on how serious it is as it can bring damage to people physically and mentally by using narrative fiction as a medium. On the positive side, it is also comforting to know that ever since there was an abolitionist movement, people in the 19th century became more aware and enlightened about the sufferings of what slaves have to go through and demanded that slaves should be treated a lot better by their very own masters or mostly known as the whites.

Nonetheless, some whites were also aware of problem regarding racism in the form of slavery. Therefore, some whites were enlightened well about the problem and started to become supporters and advocates of anti-slavery. With this, some whites had started writing novels about the racism in the form of slavery as it is a very serious problem within the society the writers lived in. This awareness of morality in regards to racism in the form of slavery has been spread until the post-modern era although, in the 21st century racism in general still existed regardless. In fact, racism happens very often in the post-modern era compared to the years prior to the post-modern era.

As a result, many narrative fictions in the 21st century are focusing on the problem of racism as it brings huge impacts to a society. Therefore, writers chose narrative fictions throughout different and many centuries in order to comment and criticize the behaviour of society in order to reveal different opinions and dimensions of racism to readers in hopes of correcting a certain society’s sense of morality. Also, narrative fictions are associated with willingness of writers in order to create characters with similar traits of people who experience racism in the real world into novels to express the message of racism and the damages that had befall on people.

In the post-modern era of the 21st century, Tahereh Mafi wrote a novel entitled A Very large Expanse of Sea which was published on October 16th, 2018. Mafi is known as a Muslim Iranian -American who was born in a small town in Connecticut from immigrant parents of Iran and is known for writing young adult fictions. (Revolvy, n. d.). Mafi was inspired to write A Very Large Expanse of Sea based on real life events that she had gone through in her own life as a Muslim especially during the post 9/11 incident which was a frightening period to be living in America at that time.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea was written in the direction of racism such as racial discrimination, xenophobia in the form of islamophobia and stereotypes specifically, towards Muslims that are living in America. That is why Mafi felt the need to write this novel as she had to comment and criticize the society that has lived with during her time during the post 9/11 incident taking place not just in America but as well as other countries. Mafi started off as a writer initially by writing fantasy, paranormal romances and science fiction novels, even so, she had always felt the need to write about people of colour to comment and convey their struggles, laughs, love and complex lives to readers as she felt that it was very important. One more reason to as on is because Mafi felt like she had the freedom to do so.

During the post 9/11 incident in America, life was not easy for Mafi as she was only a teenager at that period of time where she had to constantly change schools and start all over again. Mafi had always hated it and she felt trapped in complexities. As a teenager, Mafi had a lot of frustrations as she was being stereotyped by the world. One of the reasons why Mafi wrote this novel was due to the current political moment, especially when she read the news and felt powerless and felt like she needed to do something. Therefore, Mafi wanted to create something that stood on its own as a response to what was happening in the world currently. Mafi wanted to speak for herself and hoped that it will also speak for many other young people out there. That is why she wrote A Very Large Expanse of Sea where Mafi commented on the society she used to live in during the post 9/11 years of dealing with racism (Agency, 2018).

This novel features realistic encounters of racism such as racial discrimination, bigotry, xenophobia, stereotypes and several physical assaults that were afflicted on the main character of the novel, called Shirin who was a Muslim which came from a Persian-American family. The racism behaviours practiced by the society in the novel entitled A Very Large Expanse of Sea makes it uncomfortable for readers to read. This novel does not romanticize on racism, especially towards a Muslim women and young teenage girls who wear hijab.

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As a result, this novel is disturbing and upsetting to be read especially by Muslim readers because the main problem of racism circulates around a young teenage Muslim girl who is the protagonist of the novel. This novel that was written by the writer may help a certain society especially in America, to reconsider their views on their racist behaviour towards others and the damaging consequences of how it may affect individuals of society physically and mentally. This is because, in the novel, the main protagonist, Shirin, had to live in a time where islamophobia was rampant throughout America.

Many people in her society saw her as a ‘terrorist’ as soon as they saw her wearing a hijab and for the things that she had not committed such as committing terrorist acts. As a result, she had no choice but had to use her indifference to shield herself from all the negativity she gets from people around her. Even so, Shirin is still victim of racism as xenophobia and bigotry befell on her because of her background. The story of the novel started off with Shirin being upset about having to change school for the third time in 2 years and ends off with Shirin moving to a new place far away from the boy she fell in love with from school, named Ocean James. Shirin had not stay in a school long enough to make long lasting friendships, therefore, she does not bother to make friends as people are always giving her rude stares and judgemental looks wherever she goes because of her hijab. Shirin feels like her hijab seems to have a large neon ‘ Avoid this person’ sign on as people are constantly looking at her very oddly. A Very Large Expanse of Sea had addressed many misconceptions about the religion, Islam and gave readers a bittersweet but hopeful story in hopes of people in the real world can become united with all differences around the world (Mafi, 2018).

The writer of A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi had created the main character, Shirin, to show what Muslims of the 21st in America had to go through in their lives especially Muslim women and young teenage girls who are wearing the hijab in the time of the post 9/11 incident. Shirin is portrayed as a teenager drowned in frustration and filled with anger most of the time in the first half of the novel with the thought that everyone she meets in high school and in public are always giving her rude stares, degrading comments and random physical violence because of her race, and religion, also because of what she wears. As stated by her “Everything about me—my face, my fashion—had become political. ” (Mafi, 2018, p. 3). This quote indicated of how society thinks and judges her for her background and also what she wears, especially regarding her hijab. Shirin is a perfect character of the novel in order to deliver such commentary on racial discrimination and racial politics (Muslim Reads, n. d.).

Other than that, Shirin also stated “People had been shitting on me for having the wrong name/race/religion and socioeconomic status since as far back as I could remember… ” (Mafi, 2018 pg. 11). This quote clearly indicates that for a person who had to go through racism in terms of racial discrimination, xenophobia, degrading comments, stereotypes, negative judgements and so on usually cannot help it but be frustrated about it as these kind of racist behaviour are not morally acceptable by society. As much as Shirin seems to be angry almost throughout the novel, it portrays how a powerless person like Shirin had to struggle racism almost everyday, be it at school or in public because of the misconception society has about her race, religion and so on.

Racism in terms of racial discrimination towards Muslims of America in the 21st century is manifested in A Very Large Expanse of Sea. Racial discrimination is described as when a person is treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation because of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin or immigrant status (Australian Human Rights Commission, n. d.). As what was portrayed in this novel, where Shirin, is indicate to be discriminated by one of her teachers, called Mr Jordan, that teaches Global Perspectives. Clearly, his class is all about politics and controversial topics and the only way to fail his class were those who do not participate in voicing out their opinions.

One day, Mr Jordan decided to try a new experiment and called out Shirin and another male classmate of hers, named Travis to the front of the class. Mr Jordan then told the two of them to look at each other and instructed Travis to tell the whole class of what he thinks of Shirin. Mr Jordan pressured Travis to say something about Shrin and responded by saying “I just don’t see her. It’s like she dosen’t exist for me. When I look at her I see nothing. ”(Mafi, 2018, p. 81). Worst of all, Mr Jordan clapped in victory and seemed excited as if overjoyed at the sight of Shirin’s humiliation.

At that moment, Shirin felt betrayed, panicked and outrage, as she did not think that Mr Jordan would do something like that to her. Mr Jordan was using Travis to humiliate Shirin in front of the whole class as he had the privilege as a teacher to do so, in order to manifest his power to racially discriminate Shirin in a crowd indirectly. Shirin was hurt badly by the racial discrimination cleverly devised by her teacher because Shirin actually thought that Mr Jordan was the only decent teacher at school but did not turned out to be true at all. Shirin felt humiliated and very betrayed by her own racist teacher at school that she instantly left the class without saying a word. Shirin then stated “I’m just– I’m sick and tired of trying to explain to the world why racism is bad, okay? Why is that my job?” (Mafi, 2018, p. 82). This quote indicates how racism in the form of racial discrimination could damage a person very badly.

Similarly, to a classic novel entitled Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published in December 10th, 1884 written by Mark Twain, where this novel provides the same problem of racism as A Very Large Expanse of Sea but among the white and black races. Racial discrimination mainly befells on a character named Jim, who is a black man in the novel who is also one of Miss Watson’s slaves. As a slave, Jim was often forced into ridiculous humiliating and degrading conditions. One example of racial discrimination portrayed in this novel is that Jim was thought to be a criminal because he was a fugitive slave and is thought to be an escaped murderer with no proof. Huck, the protagonist, ran away and that anyone who tries to find him will think that he is dead. At first, the community assumes that Huck’s father was the murderer as he was an abusive father to Huck in nature but then, the community diverts their attention to Jim, who ran away shortly after Huck’s disappearance even though Huck’s father had also gone missing the following day.

The racial discrimination happens when the community decided to capture both men which offers a reward for both men and offers a $300 reward for Jim’s capture, but only a $200 reward for Huck’s father due to difference of races. The message in regards to racism in the form of racial discrimination here is subtle but clear as catching Jim is more important to the community than it is for to capture Huck’s father even though they were both only accused of murdering Huck (Sharon, n. d.). This shows that racial discrimination among the white and black race is strong as the offers for people who succeed in capturing either men comes with different amount of rewards.

Aside from that, racism in the form of xenophobia and islamophobia are also portrayed in A Very Large Expanse of Sea. Xenophobia is defined as fear of foreigners which is comes in discriminatory attitudes and behaviour that often sparks violence, abuses regardless of verbal and non-verbal, and displays of hatred. It is a mindset which practices antagonistic behavior towards a foreigner, and in this case, Shirin, is portrayed to be the ‘foreigner’ because of her foreign middle-eastern looks and her religion in the land of America. During the setting of the novel, Islam was one of the minority religions in America that was still viewed as foreign to people.

In the 19th century, xenophobia had already existed as a way of interpreting foreignness of people, objects and locations as a threat to people’s culture and identity. It was only until the the 9/11 incident in that took place in America the reaction of the people towards the incident had sparked the fear of islam, most commonly known as islamophobia. Concerns in terms of growth of Islam in the West has brought Islamophobia to a rise and is describe as ‘hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, particularly as a political force’ (Tromp, Bachman, & Kaufman, 2013).

In A Very Large Expanse of Sea, the setting of the novel was during post 9/11 and with islamophobia growing on one side of the story, Shirin became the victim of islamophobia and bigotry. Shirin could barely remember what her life had been like, before the event of 9/11 which turned America into a zoo of terrors. On a daily basis, regardless of places, Shirin is faced with xenophobia. Every conversation with students at school and teachers is like walking through a thorny path of islamophobia and xenophobia.

Worst of all, one day, Shirin was on her way back from school and she was attacked by two strangers that left her tucked deep in fear because people of the stereotype that all Muslims are terrorist of the country during the post 9/11 in America. As evident as Shirin stated “I didn’t understand how anyone could be so violently angry with me for something I hadn’t done, so much so that they’d feel justified in assaulting me in broad daylight as I walked down the street. ” (Mafi, 2018, p. 25). This quote indicates that the two strangers who attacked Shirin on the way back home from school had just physically launched a physical assault on her without having any justifications to do so just because she was wearing a hijab and being dressed like a Muslim.

The two strangers intended to hurt her because she was Muslim and sees Shirin as one of those terrorists that was involved in the 9/11 incident which is truly misleading and saddening because Shirin had nothing to do with the 9/11 event at all. This act was caused by xenophobia and islamophobia by the people in society during the post 9/11 incident in America. In pain, Shirin could not do anything but said “I worried that if I spoke or screamed my anger would grip both sides of my open mouth and rip me in half. So I said nothing. ” (Mafi, 2018, p. 27). This quote shows that as much as Shirin is in pain, she could not do anything and felt helpless because even if she vents her angry out nothing seems to change and events like this will still occur to her on another day. Besides, Shirin is approached by racist remarks and hurtful words all the time and that is why she chose not to speak to people in order to build herself a shield against the outside world of hatred towards her.

Similarly, to another renowned novel entitled To Kill A Mockingbird, published in July 11th, 1960 written by Harper Lee. In the novel, racism in the form of xenophobia is portrayed, where there lived a family called the Radley’s in Maycomb County, Alabama who seems to have different customs from the Maycomb society. Most of the people of Maycomb society the judged and stereotyped the Radley’s s alien men because their customs and the way they look seemed foreign to people of the Maycomb society. Therefore, people in the Maycomb society could not accept the Radley’s, so the people of Maycomb started stereotyping the Radley’s as they ar coloured people. As a result, most of the people in Maycomb County frequently judged people from what their family does and where they came from.

In simple words, the Maycomb society looks at black people as inferior towards the white people because of how foreign they look and are in colour. Xenophobic people cannot view group of people who are different in an objective perspective because these people already had negative judgements to make in their minds towards people who are different. Such people can never value people of different race, religion, skin colour and so on without completely understanding them. When xenophobia is strongly harboured in a person’s mind towards a different group of people, they will not be able to think of identify logically. Consequently, these people will be likely to attack a group of people who are different than what they are and they will not feel guilty about it because people frequently prejudge others due to irrational reasons (Hutami, 2014).

In conclusion, narrative fictions has been and will always be used as a medium to express and comment racism since the 19th century early modern era until the post-modern era of the 21st century. Both writers and readers can benefit from narrative fictions in problems regarding to racism because this theme is relevant for today’s society as racism still exists. Other than that, racism that is expressed in narrative fictions can bring about for society to understand different dimensions of racism such as racial discrimination, xenophobia, prejudice and stereotypes as what victims of racism frequently receives. Racism is portrayed differently through fictions be it explicit or implicit yet they represented racism in different views coming from different race, religion, skin colour, background and more in order to fight the perception and prejudgements of racists. Racism is a form of injustice which can be difficult for others to deal with due to difference of cultures and opinions.

Also, since discrimination, xenophobia, prejudice and stereotypes are now part of everyday words and acts that are used incorrectly by society, these forms of racism is now portrayed in narrative fictions, to describe what victims of racism go through precisely. To show the actual feeling of being discriminated, insulted, stereotyped and misjudged by racists. Fictions on racism since the early modern era of 19th century until the post-modern era of 21st century has been used as a platform for writers to reflect on society during their period of time in order to understand and confront the society’s way of presenting racism.

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