Jhilila 1 Mohammed Jhilila Prof.

Haddadi Minority literature 03 April 2008

One of the immanent failings to understand what minority stands for, besides misunderstanding it in juxtaposition with majority, is taking it as synonymous to ethnicity. The two concepts do overlap at many instances but they are not equivalent; that is to say, while ethnicity might include many minorities that are excluded from a given society, which makes it inclusive to minority, minority can not always include all ethnicities. However, both are considered as victims and of the contemporaneous millennium. Poetry and all texts emerging from minorities are considered arts of the victims. Poetry is, as William Wordsworth has defined, the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, and for Thomas Hardy, anything different from words knitting. The poetic texts am going to deal with is taken from the second perspective. Poetic texts have always been considered as pleasurable genre, while, like any other texts, they are a reflection of the social, political and the economic contexts the poet and the poems stem from. The African American literary texts in this respect do not make any exception. The sociality, the politicity and the ecomonicity of the texts understudy are, I deem, the best linchpin lenses through which we can read them. Being a minority text entails a social fragmentation and may be even social exclusion. Accordingly, careful reading is necessitated. Poetry is an allegorical and symbolic (re)presentation of the whole tapestry it emerges from. Before taking the reading any further, I need to make the distinction between both ethnicity and minority, if any, and how the two are reproduced within the artefacts. The historical epoch in which the poets lived and produced their texts is significant. The slogan of the coming paper will be always historicise as well as

Jhilila 2 always politicise. Henceforth, the texts are dealt with as historical records and social mirror of the general situation of the African American minority. A minority is any group that lives in the margin of a given society. Because of its particularities, it is not easily assimilated within the general social economic and political environment. An ethnic is marked by its linguistic, cultural and even racial simulacra. Both labels are featured by solidarity among their members. Yet, they are dichotomous because an ethnic group can not always be marginalized as is the case of the minorities. The question of identity is usually raised while studying or probing both categorizations. For Felix Geyer, a minority is a normal consequence of the process of social change. Though this latter does not link the term to migration, he stresses that alienation is the minorities pressing umbrella. Melvin Seeman, totally opposing Geyer, structures five types and dimensions of alienation that are the following: powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, social alienation, and self-estrangement. Both minorities and ethnicities suffer some common features of alienation that are powerlessness and social alienation if not also self-estrangement. In reading the coming poems, my focus will be on the social alienation as well as powerlessness and how they are reflected by the Harlem Poets. Seeman has later on added another feature of alienation that is the cultural one. I will open a vantage, whenever necessary, to refer to the cultural dimension of alienation. As it is mentioned in The Political Unconscious and Alienation, Ethnicity and Postmodernism, one is not always conscious about his alienation; he might be alienated but because of a false consciousness, would not experience it and would be happy with his present situation. Having settled the ground for the paper, I would like to investigate the experience of the African American minority. Before Martin Luther King’s Negro American human rights movement during the 1960s, the African originated Americans were socially and politically negated accesses to many facilities and responsibilities that the rest were allowed in. long before the Harlem movement, the Harlem renaissance took place. Yet alienation protracted.

Jhilila 3 The African American alienation was a process and strategy rather than a microcosm of the normal societal development. This can be read from Geyer who says: Alienation is a process, although marked by a degree of stagnation of fixation, rather than a state1 In the collection of poems issued by the African American poets is mirrored, adamantly and with little dexterity, the general experience suffered by the generation of the 1940s. In the Babilon Revisited, Amiri Baraka tackles one of the most critical issues raised by researchers concerned with minorities in multicultural studies. Migration and the African Negro Diaspora in Europe and America are reflected through the first verses. For the poet, the discourse of the savage other is the legend that these countries made use of to alienate him. The African is depicted as a vampire who “sucks the life of some unknown Niger.” For Baraka, the African man’s name will be known but his substance will never. This leads me to Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks where the black is estranged psychologically by the white ideal when he becomes not known even to him/herself. For Fanon, the black was taught to seek the whiteness he will never achieve and to hate blackness which he can nere recuperate. Alienation, in this respect, is not always strictly social it is also psychological. The African is psychologically reduced to a mere phallus that seeks recognition that he finds in his sexual intercourse with white women as it is expressed by Amiri when he says: to concern the white stomach of maidens. The anima of the black man is a white girl as it is expressed by Frantz Fanon when he says: Who but a white woman can do this for me? By loving me she proves that I am worthy of white love. I am loved like white man. I am a white man2. ‘I was made a white man by lighter, white man talk’ says Amiri. This latter is a little bit ambivalent in (UN) identifying himself with the African origins; in Kâ ba, he says: “we are beautiful people with African imaginations” and proudly refers to Africa yet he says later on that “Africa is a foreign place”. For him, addressing his “so called people” as he use it.
1 2

Felix Geyer, ed. Alienation, Ethnicity, and Postmodernism ( London : Greenwood Press, 1995) X. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans, Charles.L. Markmann (New York : Grove Press, Inc, 1967) 63.

Jhilila 4 Blacks “are as any sad man here American.” Here may be he is referring to the other minorities like the Hispanic and the Irish. Social alienation and powerlessness, in the case of the African American minority, is a racially fuelled segregation. It is because of the accidental qualities that blacks were and are his alienation. This identification for Hegel is “an inward and outward accord that … gives one’s people its identity: its language, rules, customs, practices and institutions. For Amiri Baraka, the African American was dissocialized and disassociated from his African environment and deprived of his language. In “Monday in B-flat”, the poet feels displaced and experiences enmity by those “who won’t let you speak in your own language who destroy your statues”. Language is an important key-concept in the study of identity. The transformation of which is led by the transformation of the vehicle through which all societies transmit their cultural attributes and by the means of which they are affiliated into their community. For Baraka, the host language ban [ned] the black from his “omm bomm ba boom”. Paul Valery says that “language is the god gone astray in flesh”. For this latter, language is the medium through which the world is expressed and possessed”. This leads me to the third space or "cultures-in-between" preached by Homi K. Bhabha. The African American can be considered as a mimic man market by his movement to and fro, against and pro, and not totally not partially African nor American. His status is not totally assimilated within the American society nor totally dissimilated from his African origins. In this status as Bhabha says: ‘the observer becomes the observed and the partial representation rearticulates the whole notion of identity and alienates it’3. The impasse of language use is critical; the Afro-American man can not speak his indigenous vernacular and can not feel his identity in the learned English, he can not express himself through another medium either. It is as Kafka puts it:


Robert Young, White Mythologies Writing History and the West (London & New York: Routledge, 1989) 147.

Jhilila 5 L’impossibilité de ne pas écrire, l’impossibilité d’écrire en allemand, l’impossibilité d’écrire autrement4 The issue of language and identity is also surveyed by Joy Harjo but with much idiosyncrasy. Being a women text takes the line of thoughts somewhere else. The poet raises the similarity between the Indian and the black minority. The stereotypic image held about the Indian, vociferously co-existing with animalistic features, is unveiled when the poet says: “no one knew her, the stranger whose tribe we recognized, her family related to deer” the Indian and the Black American suffer alienation through the stereotypic clishés through which they are infiltrated in the western mind. They are also regarded as unchangeable entities that are organised in fractions like tribes and sub-tribes. The African nigro is depicted the same way being a buffalo-like. It is through these images that the two minorities are excluded by the white ruling power causing a social illness that is prostitution. Both the Indian and the African American resort to prostitute their bodies by as she says: “dance(ing) naked in the bar of misfits”. Prostitution is a fruit of poverty and economic depression. Broadly speaking, minorities and minor literature are considered as minor because of the idea of the lack of agency and the absence of subjectivity, because of the use of the language of the metropolis, deterritorialization, because their literature is considered as essentially political and because a minor literary figure speaks to all intents and purposes on behalf of his community. Because of these criteria a minority is always distinguished. It remains necessary to mention that the question of representation remains questionable in all cases and that minorities have always existed, but because of the fear of their extinction under the power and the hegemony of the “center”, debates and symposiums are held for the sake of achieving Ecology of cultures and languages.


Kafka, Pour Une Literature Mineure, ed, L. Touaf & S. Boutkhil ( Newcastle : Cambridge Scholars Pres, 2006) 29.

Jhilila 6

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