Racial Issues in Autobiographical
Racial Issues in Autobiographical
Living in the civilized society in the 21st century we should not forget that still there are marginalized minority groups which are oppressed and can not have equal rights with the native inhabitants. Some people may not be conscious of this fact but we can not deny it. Living in a Diaspora community in a foreign country people quite always have some difficulties and problems. Dionne Brand’s book A Map to the Door of No Return is a story about identity and people’s belonging to black culture in the contemporary society. The title of the book refers to the place in West Africa, where a great number of slaves were hold.
It was a remote place, physically and culturally inaccessible. The title symbolizes this place, from which there was no return for the African people to the real world and normal life. The road to this place was the Middle Passage, which absolutely departed the person from the Diaspora. This is a book that provokes us to think and analyze and see the situation from the new perspective. Brand presents us a picture of her childhood in the Caribbean, numerous travels and journeys across Canada, histories and African ancestry.
Grand was born in Guayguayare and in 1953 she emigrated to Canada. She has always been an active protector and fighter for the rihts and freedoms of the cultural minorities, especially for the rights of black people. This book is a bright example of this fact. The search for identity is a difficult choice and not every person is able to find the correct way. At the very beginning of the book Brand tries to find origins of her family. She asks her grandfather about their motherland and ancestors but he does not say anything exact.
Not knowing anything about the past and origin of the family, it is impossible to build the normal future. When there is no connection between the present and the past, the person gets lost in this world. “She describes it as the creation place of Blacks in the New World Diaspora at the same time that it signifies the end of traceable begginings” (Hunter, 1992, p. 267). Describing the life of the black community, Brand describes her feeling at that time and she says that to live in the Black Diaspora means to live in an unreal world.
She describes the place, where most Africans were hold without their agreement and will. This process can be called migration, but this is very relative because the Africans did not want to move, it was a compulsory action. It was racism in its manifestation – one of the greatest disasters of the twentieth century. The Concubine’s Children written by Denise Chong is a story with autobiographical elements, which we also can find in Brand’s book. This is a book about Chong’s grandmother and her life. Chong’s grandmother was illegally brought to Canada in the 20s, where she worked as a house waitress.
The Concubine’s Children became a the best-seller and was translated into several languages. It also got the VanCity Book Prize in 1994 and a Governor General’s Award and was even adapted into a great play. The Concubine’s Children is a true description of the Chinese and their life in Canada in the twentieth century. The author provides us an amazing lesson from real life, she depicts Chinese migration in all details. This is a story of her family, so she knows more that anybody else in this sphere. The Concubine’s Children deals with cultural stereotypes and racism.
Chong tells us a story of her grandfather, Chan Sam and her grandmother, May-ying, who was his concubine. May-ying stayed in Canada with her children and gave all her money to her husband, who was obliged to provide his family with all they needed in China. It is not just a story about immigrants; it is a history of Chinese-Canadian relations and immigrants’ life abroad and their struggle for a better future. May-ying’s daughter, Hing, who is Denise Chong’s mother did her best to be equal with the native citizens, she studied excellently at the University and she has always striven for excellence.
Her story would not be comlete without the reunification with her Chinese family. She is able to continue her journey through all the difficulties and obstacles. Isabelle Knockwood in her book Out of the Depths depicts awful conditions in the residential schools, where pupils are treated worse than animals. In the late 19th century government of the USA and Canada decided to educate Native American children in white-run boarding schools together with white children. The main aim of such program was to give equal possibilities to all children.
Nevertheless, we can hardly say that this idea was appreciated because in these schools Native American children faced moral and physical oppressions, cultural discrimination, cruel punishments, language and religion oppression. Out of the Depths: The Experiences of MiВ’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia is based on Knockwood’s real memories from her childhood, it is an autobiographical book. Isabelle was only five years old when she was sent to the Catholic residential school. These are the most horrible memories from her childhood, which have had an effect on all her life.
She could not leave all her impressions and thoughts in her soul, so being a student of the university she interviewed 27 former pupils of this school, found numerous archives and started her research in this sphere. This book is Knockwood’s perception of educational system, she writes what she felt and this fact makes this book so comprehensive and close to readers. These children were helpless and weak, they did not have any rights, they did not have the way out. Even their parents could not do anything to help their children, they could only harm them and lead to awful abuses of their children.
Children without parents or children with darker skin were abused even more than other children. Pupils were made to wear prison uniform, eat awful meals, cut their hair and stand many other humiliations. All the mail was checked, so neither parents nor children could write a word about this school. Otherwise, they got brutal punishments. One of the most spread forms of punishments was compulsory starvation, when for every wrong action children did not get food. There was even stricter form when children were not allowed to drink water.
Pupils could not show any sign of affection. In another case they were punished, they even could not smile. Mental abused were also very popular, when the pupil was beaten or humiliated in the classroom just for the badly pronounced English world. Native language was forbidden, speaking native language meant to get one of the strictest punishments. Uncovering such horrible things about residential schools Isabelle Knockwood wanted to attract people’s attention to this problem, to make people think about their attitude to Native American children.
Racism, discrimination and segregation are another important themes of this book. The author describes her terrible experience in order to let people know about injustice, which existed not only in one separate school, but was a common practice in the attitude toward Native Americans. All these three books written by different authors in different time are connected by the same theme – humiliation and infringement of interests of some nationality or national group by other national or social group. These three authors describe tragic event from the Canadian history.
All three books are autobiographical and this adds credibility to the narration and attracts readers’ attention to the problems described. Dionne Brand in her book presents us a thrilling story of African Diaspora. Black people despite their identical and original culture were depressed by the white population. There a lot of sad pages in the African history and unfortunately most of them are connected with white people’s scornful and cruel attitude to the Africans. “Black experience in any modern city or town in the Americas is a haunting.
One enters a room and history follows, one enters a room and history precedes” (Brand, 2001, p. 67). Discrimination and segregation perfectly illustrate superficial attitude of white population to their black contemporaries. Chong’s book The Concubine’s Children gives us an idea about Chinese immigrants and their life in Canada, with all troubles, disappointments and sufferings. “The Concubine’s Children is a harrowing tale with the chronicling of institutional racism, culture clashes, and turmoil in China during the twentieth century” (Chung, 1999, p.
134). It is History of Chinese minority in Canada, written by the person who migrated to Canada, so he is able to give us a thorough description of those conditions of life: “In 1923, the Canadian Chinese Benevolent Association’s worst nightmare came true. That year, the Canadian Parliament went the way of the American Congress and passed its own exclusionary law. The date the Chinese Immigration Act went into effect – July 1, the day the nation’s birthday is celebrated … In reply to much hostility, many Chinese men went home for good” (Chong, 1994, p. 24).
Isabelle Knockwood in her story Out of the Depths touches another controversial issue in the Canadian history – attitude to the native population and their children. Canadian government even trying to be tolerant to Native Americans and intending to make them equal with the white children could not cope with this task. Attitude to darker skinned children in residential schools was so brutal and even inhuman that native inhabitants will hardly forget this tragic experience.
All three authors create vivid pictures from the Canadian history and so affect the readers greatly. They are able to describe the situation in all the details and influence readers’ feelings because they or their relatives have experienced everything they described in their stories. That is why their books can not leave people indifferent. Racism and discrimination is a serious problem of the modern society. Despite loud proclamations of liberty and equality, such problems as racism still exist in modern Canada.
Racism has deep roots in the history of the country and that is why it becomes so hard to get rid of it. Recognizing faults is a necessary stage of dealing with the problem. Canadian people should be a aware of the mistakes of their ancestors on order to be able to escape such mistakes in the future. That is the reason all there books, united by the theme of racism and discrimination are so important. They reveal shameful events from the past of Canada and remind all people about such dangers and help them to avoid these mistakes in the future.
Three books describe three different nations, which have been discriminated in Canada. There as only three examples, which can be supplemented by many others stories. I think that any national minority, who reside in Canada could have told familiar stories of abuses and discrimination is they had been asked. At the beginning of the 21st century we have to face shameful truth about racial attitudes in Canada. The main aim of these authors is to overcome this scornful attitude to minorities and to build our society on equal possibilities. References
Brand, Dionne. (2001). A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging. Toronto: Random House Canada. Chong, Denise. (1994). The Concubine’s Children. Toronto: Penguin. Chung, Ng, Wing. (1999). The Chinese in Vancouver, 1945-80: The Pursuit of Identity and Power. Vancouver: UBC Press. Hunter, Lynette. “After Modernism: Alternative Voices in the Writings of Dionne Brand, Claire Brand, Claire Harris, and Marlene Philip. ” (1992). University of Toronto Quarterly 62: 256-81. Knockwood, Isabelle. (1994). Out of the Depths. Yarmouth: Roseway.