The Racial and Cultural Differnces Described in How to Tame a Wild Tongue

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There is no denying that race has been a recurring issue for years on end. Even though slavery ended in 1865, racism has only gotten stronger but, has now bled into other races and cultures. In today’s generation, people judge one another based on appearance and with that comes stereotypes. In the article “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, he writes a letter to his son about the realities, feelings, and truth behind being black. Some refuse to let others strip them of their culture and Gloria Anzaldua is one of them. In the article “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” she is not afraid to call out all the people that has tried to change and take away her roots. Race and ethnicity are complicated issues as evidenced by contemporary authors’ opinions on the subject.

Race is a social construct, Coates believes, but most people like to disagree with him and say it is just a natural occurrence. In order for people to understand his reasoning they have to get rid of the idea that America has always been great and perfect. Instead, everyone needs to confront the past and take responsibility for everything that has happened. It started from the battle of Gettysburg, when Lincoln did not consider black people to be included in “the people.” Coates states, “But all our phrasing – race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy – serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs…” (279). Racial violence has always been apart of American Culture and it still has not changed, due to the hierarchy that white people have created and put in place. Coates explains, “And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include frisking, detaining, beating, and humiliation. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible” (279). Having different texture hair, having an accent, or even the clothes worn is looked at and judged at first glance, which overall determined the kind of treatment received. This is why Coates prioritises “the body” throughout the article, constantly having to worry about other boys, cops, and family hurting him. Growing up, one had to worry about their own parents beating them because they know how cruel the world is and they are trying to teach their kids that they need to be careful. Even though it does not seem like it, it is all out of love and they just want what every parent wants for their kids, to be safe. Coates explains, “What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within all of it” (280). As an african american it is like survival of the fittest, having to adapt and learn appropriate gestures and ways to talk to accommodate for the streets, the cops, and the professional world.

Comparing street life to suburban life, he explains how they are kept in this perfect little bubble that is kept from the real world and the reality of what a lot of people have to go through. It is not about race, it is about people that believe themselves to be white and it is what Coates calles “the dream.” It is ignoring history, and suppressing the facts that come with it. Living as a black person, they did not get to choose the life that came with it, but people who do have a choice are choosing to ignore reality because they want to live a false life of perfection because once they realize what is really going on, they are no longer living in “the dream.”

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Like Coates, Anzaldua also faced the repercussions that came with not being white. From when her elementary school teacher would hit her hand with a ruler for trying to correct her on how to pronounce her name, to the time in college where they made her take two speech classes to get rid of her accent. Not only were schools wanting to evolve Anzaldua to speak more white, but also her mother. Her mother knew how much easier her life would be if she was Americanised and that is why she did not want her to speak English like a Mexican. At a young age she has always felt like people were trying to change her, but she especially felt this way being a girl and having to always act a certain way. Anzaldua constantly got told to not talk too much, not to gossip, not to talk back to her parents, and she did not understand why because men did not get told how to act. This was frustrating for her because it seemed like no matter what, in some way she was not good enough and was always an outcast, especially by living in Texas right next to the Mexican border. Anzaldua feels lost because she can not identify with either Hispanic or English, which is why she started speaking Chicano Spanish and that is where she found she belongs.

Anzaldua found a community of people that had the same strugglings and they could all finally relate and be able to speak freely without being judged. Anzaldua emphasizes that, “Chicano Spanish sprang out of the Chicanos’ need to identify ourselves as a distinct people” (28). Chicano Spanish finally gave her a sense of identity, which she has always longed. On the other hand, Latina’s, who thought they were superior looked down on Chicano Spanish because they thought of it as not speaking proper Spanish. Anzaldua comments, “Because we speak with tongues of fire we are culturally crucified. Racially, culturally, and linguistically somos huérfanos – we speak an orphan tongue” (30). This is called internalized racism, Latinas are turning racial attitudes against their own ethnic group. Culture is part of someone’s identity and no one should make someone else feel obligated to change that, which is exactly what Anzaldua did. She never let anyone take away what was important to her and even became a teacher and fought for Chicano literature to be taught at schools. For years Anzaldua let other people’s negativity affect her, but over time she has realized that it is your own job to accept and be proud of your true self.

Both Coates and Anzaldua understand the pressure that society puts on people of race and ethnicity. Life has never been easy for non white people and does not seem to be getting easier. For generations, “everyone has lost a child, somehow, to the streets, to jail, to drugs, to guns,” which adds to the fear and anger in wanting change (Coates 282). From the very first time white people stepped foot in America, they have thought themselves as superior. They killed almost every Native American in order to conquer America and forced them to speak English and abandon their tribal traditions. Anzaldua states, “Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex, and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself” (30). By forcing people to conform to the American way by taking away their culture and identity, it makes them angry and want to protest for what is right. Taking something away that means so much, makes people want it more, and fight for it even more. People that live in America constantly talk about how much we have grown and evolved and how everyone wants to come here to achieve the american dream, but in reality not very much has changed. As Coates adds, “…it must be said that the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor, and land; through the flaying of backs; the chaining of limbs…and various other acts meant, first and foremost, to deny you and me the right to secure and govern our own bodies” (278). Our minds still revolve around the hierarchy that was created years ago. The only difference is that we have created stereotypes that go along with each ethnic group. We generalize everyone that fits the physical aspect of it and then make a judgment of the way they act and talk based on stereotypes created. This creates pressure to change in order to not fit into a certain ethic stereotype, which is conforming to becoming white since being white is never considered a bad thing.

Racial differences over the recent years have led to a lot of violence, which shows how much people are determined to finally create a much needed change. As both Coates and Anzaldua writes about their lives, it is prevalent that life was not easy or fair for them, but they were still able to overcome it and be successful. Their stories give readers different perspectives of this world and make people think about the world we live in. People should not be judged or treated a certain way because of their race, but on the way they treat others and how hard they work. America is known for being so diverse, so we need to start treating everyone equally and embrace everyone’s differences. Being true to yourself and being confident enough in yourself to continue the traditions in your culture and speaking whatever language wanted, will make a positive impact and give others the confidence to do the same.   

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