Not Just a “Product of Its Time”
Authors, writers, poets, and other laureates don't just imagine new worlds, they often shape reality as well. They are, after all, pioneers of cultural change.
However, what appears to be a progressive realm of new ideas and open-minded discussions, is too often filled with the overwhelming domination of exclusively white experiences.
The standards that have been set, the language that people are accustomed to, and the influence it has on individuals have mostly been pre-determined by Eurocentric male figures. The dangers of which plague us to this day.
Origins of racial stereotypes, deeming people of other gender and races as inferior, and misrepresentation are just a few outcomes of many that initially went on to define "the norm." As a result, authors and artists of colour were shunned out.
With their voices silenced, these groups of people did not have a platform. Their cultures and experiences were relegated out of people's reach, and readers were deprived of educating themselves about a whole new world, very different from the ones they know. Although accounts of their heritage and tradition were recorded, it was done by their colonisers. Thus, not only were the records inaccurate but their lifestyles and values were also portrayed in a negative light.
Stereotypes were normalised, which ultimately found their way in pieces of literature and art. Sylvia Plath perpetuates racist stereotypes and even involves a scene where she assaults a person of colour through her novel The Bell Jar. While it may be argued that her writing was merely "a product of the time," the argument fails to render her encouragement of bigoted behaviour as problematic.
To this day, people of certain races, ethnicities, and nationalities are widely misrepresented. Early accounts of derogatory caricatures of African-American people were done with characters such as Jim Crow, and blackface. They were portrayed as gullible, intellectually inferior, and ignorant.
All of this ties into the importance of branching out and enjoying art from other cultures. Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease is a gripping portrayal of the corruption that runs rampant in the life of a Nigerian government official. Toni Morrison's works delve into the experiences of being a slave, Ocean Vuong talks about his Vietnamese roots and his experiences as an immigrant. These are just a few names out of many that should be explored. In addition, translations of books written in foreign languages are a great way of exploring a wide variety of new reading material.
The family ties, unique practices, and untold stories can only truly be captured by the artist experiencing them. It is an authentic portrayal of what it is like to be in their shoes and witness the wonders of their cultures. So, the next time any of us are at a bookstore, perhaps we could do our due diligence and pick up a book to delve into an unfiltered rendition of an unfamiliar culture.
Abir Hossain is a failed SoundCloud rapper. Tell him you too can't find anything to rhyme oranges with at fb/abir.hossain.19