The society we live in has this skewed way of looking at things. We pride ourselves as being honest, truthful, and upstanding, but are we really? If we go by what’s happening in society can we truly say that we are beings that uphold truth? Not that am saying that everyone is a liar, am just speaking to how we (as a society) have let things happen because we are too afraid to speak the truth. We have enabled this culture of untruthfulness and its bred contempt, and greed. In fact, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his famous book On The Genealogy of Morals acknowledged how truth is influenced by culture and society and why it seems to be ignored or taken for granted in modern society(Cline Austine).
Society has rules and regulations that everyone living in it should abide by. And, for a while, they have been working, but just like the wave carries the water to the shore of the ocean, change is inevitable. Society is constantly evolving so whatever applied then will not apply now or in the future. Morality is what guides the truth. As a society, we have various tools or institutions that we use to ensure truth and justice is carried out, but the most important has always been the role of religion. Religion wields allegiance to one true God, and He stands for truth. Anything against him defies the moral ethics of the church, which could translate to society too. The point is Friedrich Nietzsche noted that the value of truth depends on the situation (Nietzsche Friedrich).
I chose to analyze Chimamanda’s Ngozi Adichie’s book “We should all be feminists” and “Harlem” poem by Langston Hughes because we have lived in a society that has marginalized minority groups for a long time. Since the colonial era, we have had a long history of injustices carried out. Things like atrocities, discrimination, slavery, mass killings, racism, and tribalism have plagued us for the longest time and unfortunately, continue to haunt us up to now. We have watched as genocides and slavery happened in the pretext of detachment or neutrality while protecting our best interests or supporting our allies.
Marginalized groups like Black Americans, Muslim women, Asian Americans, African slaves, Latinos, and Red Indians went through oppression or discrimination in history. The essay adapted from her TED talk (We Should All Be Feminists| TED) speaks of her experience growing up and living in Lagos, and how sexism played a role in how women are treated in Nigeria. For the longest time women have been socially conditioned to be well-mannered, agreeable, docile, meek, and silent. It is seen as a sign of respect, but the question is, are women silent because of fear or out of respect? Adichie decided to challenge the traditional, obnoxious and sexist ideas that have been propagated by the patriarchal state for so long and change the narrative of how women view themselves. In a world that has conditioned women, such that some women even support patriarchy, how do we recognize and unlearn some of the things the oppressive institution of patriarchy has taught us? This not only applies to African society only but also in the United States and all over the world. Look at the gender pay gap, the inconsistencies of men to women numbers in acting or politics, factories, sports (Ohagwu et al.).
It’s interesting because it’s going to take years before the perception of how society treats women will be changed. It’s deeply ingrained in the subconscious of women’s minds and trying to change the perspective will be an uphill task. Despite that, it’s not impossible to achieve. Adichie decided to speak against the unfairness and the glaring differences in treatment of both sexes. She told her story.
Telling her story has shifted the cogs in the brains of society. As much as she advocates for feminism in every aspect, we can no longer deny the truth, gender discrimination is prevalent in today’s society. It’s an injustice to both men and women. The current patriarchal system is also hurting men without them knowing it. Men are under a lot of pressure to be strong, and tough almost as if they aren’t human. Any display of emotion and feelings is seen as being weak without noticing the serious repercussions it’s having on men. Am sure there are many people who weren’t aware of the shifting gender dynamics until she spoke about it(Higgins Charlotte).
For Adichie to tell her story in a world where stories are written by men for their benefit is a milestone for men and women too. As Anne Elliot says in Jane Austen’s book Persuasion, “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story”. What about the rest like American, Latino, Muslim or African women
Of the many great attributes he had like writing essays, stories, and novels, poetry was the one he actively used to voice the plight of African Americans in the 1930s. Due to the Great Migration in the 1920s, many African Americans settled in Harlem and there was a sudden explosion of the Harlem Renaissance, which appreciated the intellectual, social and artistic talents of Blacks. In the poem Harlem, Langston asks, What happens to a dream deferred? “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore and then run”? He compares a dream to fruit or a bad sore. Raisins were once grapes but are dried up, in this line he’s trying to explain how something can transform from its full glory to something less attractive. Alternatively, his other description of a sore which when left unattended to starts oozing pus and all those disgusting exudates. Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Line 6 to 8 of the poem is further visualizing how a dream ignored can be further detrimental and uses examples to explain these effects. This line “Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load” is like a warning, a strain, or a sign of something to come and from the signs of it, it doesn’t seem good. The last line “Or does it explode?” is the effect of what happens when something has been festering for so long without being addressed(Harlem by Langston Hughes | Poetry Foundation).
Langston Hughes wrote this poem in 1951, at a time when racism was rampant and the Harlem Renaissance was dying. The glaring discrimination and oppression of African Americans and even other minority groups was not funny or interesting especially at a time, when speaking had serious consequences such that people continued to suffer in silence out of fear of death or discrimination. Hughes was affected by the plight of his people all over America. He wanted to speak about the bitter ugly truth of racism, which unfortunately we still carry up to now. It’s shocking that we are still dealing with the same beast that was there in the 1900s only now it’s evolved into something else. It’s more subtle right now, in fact, you could miss it but it’s there. It’s masked in interesting terms like colorism or internalized racism.
Whoever perpetrated this superiority complex achieved what they wanted because as much as we fight racism, the effects it’s had on individuals has been the most profound. Obviously, at that time, Langston was dealing with cultural racism, but what he spoke on is still relevant today. He expressed the dreams African Americans had but could not fulfill because of an oppressive society. The frustrations, historical baggage, and societal pressure they endured. He had to constantly talk about things because that’s how you change the narrative and effect change, slowly but surely.
Obviously, there are great strides that have been realized towards gender inequality, but we still have a long way. By allowing people to tell their stories in the most authentic way, we are giving a voice to many people in the same situations; we are empowering others and encouraging truth. We have to continue talking about these uncomfortable topics until something gives despite what people say. We could also acknowledge as gender evolves, experiences are different but the moral of the story is we can speak for ourselves. Adichie and Hughes are good examples that speaking your truth can change things for the better.