For decades, dominant members of society have unjustly treated their perceived inferiors in order to oppress them and achieve a sense of superiority. Fred D’Aguiar’s polyvocal memoir ‘The Longest Memory’ discusses this through its depiction of slaves in an American plantation, acting as a condemnation of the slavery period and the effect of oppression. Tom Wright’s play ‘Black Diggers’ functions in a similar way, albeit in the context of the Great War, by discussing the unfair treatment of Indigenous servicemen, ultimately calling for social reform.
Across both texts, injustice is seen to have an adverse impact amongst oppressed minorities. The impact of injustice is varied depending on its cause. Responses to injustice of rebellion or acceptance dictate its effects. Injustice is seen to have debilitating consequences upon individuals. Both Wright and D’Aguiar’s texts demonstrate the overwhelming power that injustice can have on marginalised groups.
Both institutionalised oppression and attitudinal discrimination are seen to have debilitating effects on the oppressed.
In ‘The Longest Memory,’ injustice stems from the legislated oppression of African-Americans. The Plantation Owners state, “Our line of work is slaves, we can’t change the fact.” D’Aguiar’s acknowledgement of the economic side of slavery reinforces that in his text, blacks are facing legalised oppression which is seen to be unchanging. Conversely in ‘Black Diggers’, the Indigenous Australians are confronted with bouts of casual racism. The ignorance of the white soldiers who believed that Aborginals “could see in the dark” because they “have a fifth sense” is laughed off by Laurie, but the inclusion of this dialogue by Wright demonstrates that whilst Indigenous servicemen were accepted at war, there was still a strong undercurrent of racism running through white Australians.
In addition, his inclusion of supernatural imagery further ostracises the Aboriginals as they are made to seem foreign and different. Although the roots of racism are different, their effects are equally as damning. D’Aguiar suggests that an abundance of institutionalised injustice can destroy one’s morale through his depiction of Whitechapel. Although called “boy, mule, nigger, slave,” with D’Aguiar’s listing of nouns reinforcing the breadth and pervasiveness of racism in the text, Whitechapel remains a loyal and trusted slave. Whitechapel states, “the future is more of the past waiting to happen,” suggesting that he believes that his situation is concrete and irreversible as a direct result of years of discrimination. Similarly in Wright’s text, the black diggers are confronted with the impossibility of a changed society. Upon returning home, Archie speaks up about the working conditions of the Indigenous, but is shot down by his manager. His proclamation, “I thought things would change after the war,” is indicative of his naive aspiration for change, with Wright’s repeated motif of longing for change further reinforcing the inevitability of injustice within a society. Despite the causes of racism differing, both texts elucidate that an entrenched sense of superiority leads to injustice.
Defiance to injustice results in further punishments and consequences.
Injustice is seen to ultimately lead to a loss of identity. D’Aguiar demonstrates this in ‘The Longest Memory’ primarily through Whitechapel, who ultimately dies as a result of injustices in his life. Following Chapel’s death, Whitechapel questions, “Is that what I have become?” With D’Aguiar using Whitechapel’s self-doubt to suggest a sense of defeat. Further, D’Aguiar’s employment of the simile “Memory hurts. Like crying,” is emblematic of Whitechapel’s defeated state, with his realisation that he has lived his life around the wrong principles bringing him ultimately to his death. While not as extreme in ‘Black Diggers,’ Wright does show the effect of injustice on one’s identity. Upon returning home from war, Nigel is reduced to “a sad figure” handing out flyers to “Tarzan the Ape Man.” Wright’s use of irony coupled with the fact “no one takes” the flyers he’s handing out demonstrates the discrimination faced by the Indigenous within Australian society by emphasising how they are isolated and ostracised by the majority. Wright makes clear Nigel’s loss of identity through Nigel’s statement that he feels as if he “doesn’t belong.” D’Aguiar also shows Chapel to lose his identity. D’Aguiar uses the symbol of the whip by saying that “your policy of a judicious whip failed to save him,” emphasising both the irreparable divide between “slave and enslaver,” as well as showing the effects on Chapel. Conversely, Wright shows a loss of identity through an inability to express oneself. Following the war, Bertie becomes “”unable to speak,” which is symbolic of the fact that Indigenous voices were silenced, as well as showing Bertie’s loss of autonomy. The effects of injustice are realised through the loss of one’s identity.
Both Tom Wright’s ‘Black Diggers’ and Fred D’Aguiar’s ‘The Longest Memory’ discuss the tribulations of black people throughout history. Indeed, injustice and discrimination is evidenced to have devastating effects upon oppressed groups. Despite different causes of racism, an entrenched sense of superiority leads to injustice. Defiance to injustice results in further punishments. Injustice is seen to ultimately lead to a loss of identity. In all, the two authors’ discussion of injustice inflicted on minorities is an appeal for an attitudinal shift in the treatment of others.
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