Racism against Caliban and Minorities
Aime Cesaire’s A Tempest involves a theme of a controversial problem between two characters, Caliban and Prospero. Caliban and Prospero have a problematic relationship throughout the play that is portrayed through dialogue from one to the other. Caliban will deliberately say things to upset his master, while Prospero will retaliate back with racist or cruel remarks toward the slave. The oppression that Caliban faced is an important conflict that reflects one of the prevalent issues in the world today–racism. The act of racism has been perpetuated through the years that dates back as early as the 12th century between European Christians and the Jews. Racism has come in many forms throughout the decades and still affects different types of ethnic groups throughout the world. What Caliban had faced through the actions of Prospero are not foreign to African Americans or any ethnic group. By understanding racism from the Renaissance in the 1800s–Caliban’s time period–to today, one can conclude whether or not racism has evolved or devolved, and how important the issue of racism still stands today.
Aime Cesaire’s outstanding feature which makes him different from post-colonial writers are that he wrote both poems, plays and other theoretical writings in which he conveyed his anti-colonialist views and that he took part in the political area. He is generally accepted as the initiator of the Negritude movement, which played a significant role for the blacks suffering from colonialism. Negritude can be regarded as a consciously established struggle against the colonial acts and claims that they were culturally and racially more superior than the colonized Murdoch: 2011: 67). Negritude claims that the blacks have their peculiar cultural, civilization and original qualities and that all the black Africans have been exposed to a system that does not accept their cultural and intellectual values (Cesaire, 1969a: 20). According to Cesaire,
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Negritude was based on the awareness that the colonized used a versatile framework that supported the slavery of the blacks and racism which encouraged the colonial attempts. Cesaire conveys his stance against colonialism mainly through the relationship and speeches between Caliban and Prospero, that is, Caliban’s response to Prospero’s acts indicates Cesaire’s anti-colonialist approach. Although Prospero is the master of Caliban, who is a black slave, Caliban no more accepts his minor status and always opposes Prospero’s idea that he is superior to Caliban (Karagoz).
Prospero’s attitudes towards Caliban prove the Western powers’ way of thinking and behaving against the black colonized. Prospero claims that he is right in ordering and subduing Caliban, thus reducing Caliban to the position of being an animal. For example, he calls Caliban “ ugly ape “, “ a savage “, “ a dumb animal “; therefore, Prospero tries to impose his superiority upon Caliban, who is supposed by Prospero to have to obey his orders and submit what
Prospero says without any complaint and protest. Caliban does not have any value and positive quality for Prospero. He always has to choose either to serve Prospero or to be punished severely. In spite of being a black servant in the hands of Europeans, Caliban is never satisfied with his position, being in constant protest against the approach and attitudes of Prospero. Caliban trusts himself throughout the play and never gets into any inferiority complex even when he is threatened and oppressed by Prospero. Caliban’s acts and rebellious nature remind us of Cesaire’s views that are based on the objection that there can never be a hierarchical rank between societies, especially between the colonized and the colonizers. As Cesaire argued the idea that the Africans must not regard themselves as the secondary and minor human beings, Caliban insists on claiming that Prospero cannot prove his superiority. Like Cesaire, Caliban does not forget his own culture, language, and existence, referring to them without any embarrassment. This is the philosophy of Cesaire that the black colonized have to recognize their own achievements, values, and civilization. They need to return to their way of living and culture that are not so dishonorable as the Europeans tried to make them accept. Caliban is aware of the wicked intention of Prospero and gains his consciousness of a real human being with his freedom who must not be used as a slave by any society (Karagoz).
During the eighteenth century, different skin color had begun to be recognized. Skin color was the most prominent distinction between Europeans and blacks that soon became one of several “salient identities” (Fredrickson 2002, 54). Fredrickson quotes German philosopher Christoph Meiners, author of Outline of the History of Humanity, on the subject of skin tone. Meiners says, “ ‘Fair’ people were superior in both respects, while the ‘darker, colored peoples,’ “ he said were both “ ‘ugly’ and at best ‘semi-civilized’ “ (qtd. in Fredrickson 59). An article on The National Archives mentioned the attitudes toward black in the eighteenth century by saying, “..these ideas were expanded by writers, such as Edward Long, who denied the humanity of Black people. Hundreds of books and tracts described ‘the Negro’ in absurd and uncomplimentary ways..” (National Archives). Fredrickson had a publication in PBS where he began talking about the effects the Enlightenment had on race, he says “During the Enlightenment, a secular or scientific theory of race moved the subject away from the Bible, with its insistence on the essential unity of the human race” (Fredrickson 2003). Ethnologist started noticing humans being part of the normal world and created subdivisions of three to five races serving varieties of an individual human species (Fredrickson 2003).
In the wake of all the struggle, while slavery had been at its peak during the eighteenth century, the northern states of the new United States began to abolish slavery. The economic interests revolving around cotton, and racial anxieties between whites and blacks in heavily black populated areas prevented the South from following suit. The French Revolution had a better outcome than America did in “giving more democratic rights to oppressed ethnic group,” and soon in the 1790s, slavery was abolished throughout the French colonies. During this time, Jews of France had been emancipated from restrictions on movement, political segregation, special taxes, and had become citizens of the republic. Great Britain also went against the slave trade in 1807, making it the “first European nation” to abolish slavery permanently in 1833 (Fredrickson 2002; 52-65).
Fredrickson goes on to talk about the triumphs and failures of emancipation which had been the major theme for Jews in the nineteenth century. There were a few differences such as elimination of special taxes, public stigmatization and limited communal autonomy that caused a contrast between Jews and Christians in Europe. Amongst both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the emancipation of Jews from the status of “social and political pariahs” had been at the center of western and central Europe (76). The process was not a problem in England and France, though, in “German-speaking” states and the newly centralized Germany of Bismark, there were issues and disagreements on carrying emancipation to the ideal outcome of “full equality” (77). By the end of the nineteenth century, political movements had tried restricting the process in Germany and Austria. Even though there were only “one percent of the population in 1900” identifying as Jewish in Germany, they still wanted to reverse this because of how many were living in the western parts of Europe (78). In 1849, the lower house of the Bavarian Parliament equalized the civil status of Jews in the kingdom by passing a bill, but one year later a more prominent outcry against Jews emancipation caused the upper house to reject the bill. Once Germany was integrated by Bismarck, Jews were able to have full citizenship throughout the North German Federation in 1869 and all of Reich in 1871. Unfortunately, there had been restrictions due to religion in the member states of the federation “in Prussia, for example, where unconverted Jews were unable to serve the state as military officers, schoolteachers, and bureaucrats” (78). In the Reich, if Jews did not become Christian, they were “denied access to civil service positions, university professorships, and military commissions” (78). “Free professions” had created many of the next generations of Jews opportunities to flourish academically by attending universities which created better jobs for them like finance (78). According to David Sorkin, “By 1871, fully 80% of German Jewry qualified as bourgeois” (qtd. In Fredrickson 2002, 78). Because of religion, Jews were still excluded from military and government roles that portrayed prejudices still relevant at the time (78).
Because of Jewish success in some areas, anxiety arose about the power and what people thought would become domination amongst people who believed that emancipation had gone too far. This fear caused pioneer racists such as Wilhelm Marr, who created the term “antisemitism” and also had founded the Anti-Semitic League, to believe Jews were establishing their hegemony over German-born citizens. The Plenary in Bucharest defines “antisemitism” as, “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities” (Defining Anti-Semitism). Marr published the first systematic presentation from a secular perspective in 1879, The Victory of the Jews over the Germans, claiming Jews were corrupt by nature and not due to the beliefs they shared (Fredrickson 2002). Soon after this Karl Eugen Duhring published The Jewish Question as a Problem of Racial Character which had been a more thorough overview of the racist antisemitism. There would soon be a time when Germans fought back the Jewish aggression and punish them for their evil conspiracies (Fredrickson 2002).
While emancipation happened in Germany toward the Jews, the blacks in the United States went through it as well in the nineteenth century. There was an ideology of racism of black inferiority risen as a reaction to the upbringing of northern abolitionism during the 1830s. Those protecting black servitude needed justice of the institution that would happen simultaneously with the fall of social deference as well as the extension of suffrage rights among Caucasian men taking place in both the South and North. Pro-Slavery politicians and publicists had recourse to the American School of Ethnology disagreement that some types of mankind had been created unequal and separate. This revision in the book of Genesis unpleasant to the orthodox evangelical Christians, whom of which were starting to become more and more influential surrounding religion in the South (Fredrickson 2002). Some of those who had knowledge of scientific ethnology, but preferred avoiding contradicting the Genesis story, decided to follow the eighteenth-century theory that blacks had fell from the original race of white Adamites and asserted that the deviation had not been able to be reversed (Fredrickson 2002).
The discriminatory and hostility of the free blacks of the north and those of the border states who had emancipated after the Revolution showed American white supremacy its most prominent form. A religious defense on the topic of slavery was that it had existed in biblical times, but was never condemned by Christ and could not be defined as sinful (Fredrickson 2002). Conservatives who refused to believe everyone as an equal man deemed that a social hierarchy with an unskilled class at the bottom was necessary for any society but the idea of only blacks being at the lowest part of the pyramid was never supported or proven. The segregation, discrimination, and violent acts that surrounded ex-slaves in the areas where slavery was abolished communicated that being a different color was an impossible and unavoidable obstacle to acceptance in the nation. During the time the Supreme Court announced in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that free blacks were unable to become citizens of the United States, the racist ground of the American polity was then uncovered. The decision though had only been in effect for about a decade. In 1863 the black slaves’ emancipation was an alternate cause of a war to save the Union from southern secession (Fredrickson 2002, 80-81). The Fourteenth Amendment that had been ratified in 1868 created equal citizenship for all the people born in the United States into the Constitution (Fredrickson 2002, 81). There soon were issues with federal effort trying to enforce civic and political equality for blacks at the time of the Reconstruction which failed due to the government not being able to prove or commit enough information or power to overcome white resistance to equality for blacks in the South. (Fredrickson 2002, 81)
Following into the twentieth-century, many blacks in the United States still faced issues of trying to be accepted into the place they called their home. Before WWII many blacks had been treated poorly and given jobs like farmer which did not pay them much (Civil Rights). Work pertaining to the war had started to become more profitable, but still, blacks were being discouraged from joining the military and not being compensated more for their work, despite money growing (Civil Rights). Black began to get frustrated and start to take action by going to Washington and marching, they simply wanted to receive the same rights as everyone else when it came to employment. Because of this threat that President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced, he issued an Executive Order (8802) in 1941 that would allow for national defense jobs to be allowed to anyone who wished to be a part of it, regardless of ethnicity (Civil Rights). This was a huge accomplishment for blacks because this would enable them to receive the same work benefits as their neighbors. With a win like this, there had to be a setback, and that setback came with segregation and discrimination even throughout the black women and men deployments in World War 2, even when returning back home (Civil Rights). A few years after WWII, another Executive Order (9981) was released by President Harry Truman in 1948 that would end discrimination in the military (Civil Rights).
The Civil Rights Act of 1957, signed by President Eisenhower had gone into effect due to blacks still being discriminated against in the southern states and being forced to take literacy tests for voting that was barely was very struggling to even pass; This act was created another great opportunity for blacks to not be prevented from voting. (Civil Rights). In 1963, the March on Washington took place which had been a big deal for the civil rights movement that had supporters like Martin Luther King Jr., and where his infamous “I Have A Dream” speech had first made its mark on the world (Civil Rights). One year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 took place that was created by President John F. Kennedy in which the act decreased the number of literacy tests to some citizens, and also created equal employment for all (Civil Rights). Unfortunately, these achievements came at a sacrifice as the world witnessed the assassinations of both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. (Civil Rights). Soon after MLK’s death, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 came into play that denied housing discrimination of any kind toward any race, gender, or religious background (Civil Rights).
Finding its way to the twenty-first-century, modern-day America, racism is still perpetuated in intricate ways throughout society. Ethnic groups have had many triumphs in the centuries before that has given many people better opportunities to live a better life than their ancestors. Even though there is more privilege for a given amount of people of color, there are still issues that are having to be faced. The more diverse the country becomes, the more diverse the opinions are, and that is obvious in the United States. There is discrimination against not only blacks, but Mexicans, and Muslims. Immigration has now become a controversial issue politically. DACA was introduced under the Obama administration which was then cut off under the Trump administration. Many immigrants have been fighting for their rights in a country they believe is the “dream.” There is tension between Americans because they believe letting in people from different countries will cause harm to their jobs, and their lives. People are risking getting deported each day because they did not give consent to coming to America, but have to face the same consequences as their parents. Some Muslims are seen as being a threat or “terrorists.”
Ben and Jerry, better known as the ice cream company created an article called “Systemic Racism is Real,” where they give reasons as to why systemic racism is still in effect today. They took studies on several different issues that ethnic groups still lack compared to their white peers. In terms of wealth, one study shows that “white families hold 90% of the national wealth, Latino families hold 2.3%, and black families hold 2.6%” (Systemic Racism). There was also another study done over employment, and even sixty years later “black unemployment rate has been consistently twice that of whites” (Systemic Racism). There are more studies over things like healthcare, surveillance, and housing that convey that people of different ethnic backgrounds are still facing discrimination today. One of the most prevalent issues that happen to be all over social media and the news is criminal justice and African Americans.
In a reference on Gale Global Issues in Context called “Racism and Law Enforcement,” it dives deep into how race seems to play a role in the criminal justice system. It goes on to say that due to a high number of shootings, and arrests in the 2010s in the US, it posed a question of “whether law enforcement officials treat white people differently from racial minorities” (Racism and Law). This not only had been discussed in America but as well as the United Kingdom released by police department members, where black men were seventeen times more likely to get involved in a police arrest. In 2014, Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old man was shot multiple times in the front of his body as he got close to the officer, despite Brown being unarmed. This caused an outcry for justice for the man, which ultimately resulted in the police officer getting let off the hook. Because of this issue, the problem of racism and law enforcement had arisen once again in the United States (Racism and Law). This scenario has been perpetuated time and time again through the law as more people become enraged at the police. This uproar caused infamous slogans like “Fuck the Police,” and the most prominent slogan “Black Lives Matter.”
Black Lives Matter turned into an American activist organization in the hopes of terminating the discrimination and shootings of African Americans (Ruth). The movement began after the despicable incident in 2013 surrounding Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin; Martin, a seventeen-year-old boy, was killed while unarmed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who said his motive for killing Martin was self-defense because of Martin attacking him (Ruth). The outcome of this was Zimmerman being charged with second-degree murder, which caused an uproar and wave of sadness within the African American community (Ruth). Michael Ruth, the author of the article titled “Black Lives Matter,” said, “African Americans across the United States erupted in angry protests, claiming their government did not care about seeking justice for African Americans” (Ruth). Throughout the following years, there were many other deaths of African Americans by Caucasian police that sent the members of the movement to protest in different areas where they wished to seek justice (Ruth). This was a traumatizing start to a severe outcry of justice that would affect the daily lives of African Americans, even to today.
Not only have African Americans been struggling for several centuries, but anyone who has been perceived to be different in terms of color, religion, or ethnicity has faced problems. Caliban was no different, he had faced countless trials thrown at him by Prospero and was degraded, and discriminated against by the words of his master. Luckily, Caliban’s persistent attitude, and aspiration to put an end to his slavery and escape his prejudicial master’s grasps paid off in the end as he fled away from his master on the island. Throughout the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, Jews and blacks were treated at the lowest of the social class and faced discrimination amongst opposing groups of people. For the Jews, the Christians had many oppressive thoughts about them due to religion, while blacks had been mistreated by Europeans due to skin color. Though the abolition and emancipation had been great triumphs for Jews and blacks alike, there were still problems that following into the twentieth century surrounding blacks in America. African Americans still had to face issues pertaining to military and government, which in turn, broke out a cacophony of frustration that lead to seeking equal rights in voting, jobs, and housing. The rights African Americans gain in the twenty-first century due to the resilience of their ancestors in prior centuries give us more opportunity to be seen as normal citizens. Unfortunately, seeing throughout history, whenever there is an achievement to move forward, there is a setback, which in turn happened to create Black Lives Matter, and the fight for immigration for any ethnic group. To live in a society as a different color, religion, race, you have to be strong, and persistent to seek change. Caliban is a prime example of how seeking freedom comes at a price, but when there are multitudes of the same like-minded, oppressed people, together they can seek justice and equality.