The Impact of Racism
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The poem, “My Father Learns to Speak (Again),” is a stark depiction of the one of the most common effects of racism on individuals, particularly blacks in the white diaspora. The speaker in the poem addresses “you” directly and brings to the fore the effects of racial discrimination. The addressee “you” – is the father. This is evident when the persona says “. . . to baptize me and marry me” (Suarez and Cleave 133). Due to racism, the person described goes to great lengths to conceal his origin by working on his speech articulation.
The thesis of this paper states that racial discrimination against the blacks resulted into alienation of the Afro-Americans. The “you” leaves the Appalachian farm for New Haven to study theology. The discriminated is leaving a black neighborhood for a white country. For fear of being discriminated against, he takes extreme measures. For a long time, the man does not speak for fear of being branded. He tries as much as possible to conceal his native accent, which would have given him away as a native of the Appalachian farm (Suarez and Cleave 133).
This is one of the worst effects of alienation on an individual. By keeping his mouth shut in order to conceal his native accent, the man lives in self-denial. He consigns his linguistic culture to the periphery for all the time he studies theology by spending most of his time practicing the American accent. The implication of this is the man lives a lie and is completely alienated from his culture.
The fear of being discriminated forces members of the black race to drop their own culture and adopt that of the whites (Alexander 43). This is because abusive behavior towards members of another race has the effect of eroding the self-esteem that African Americans have been experienced for a long time. In addition, fear of racism makes blacks, or other minority groups, suffer from inferiority complex. The character depicted in this poem – the father – considers his native accent inferior, and, thus, works hard to get rid of it.
However, the native way of pronouncing words never quite goes away. It can still be heard during several moments when his guard is down. A good example is when he cheers his favorite basketball team, or when he yells for a drink from his garage (Suarez and Cleave 133). In such moments, the man throws all caution to the wind and his native accent slips in uninhibited. Therefore, the more he tries to evade his own roots, the more they come back strongly to him. The consequence of this is – one can never escape from his background or past completely.
Racialism has driven many blacks to the extreme. There are those who have attempted to bleach their bodies so as to get rid of their black skins. What they forget is that deep inside they are still blacks. Moreover, what makes one black, or white for that matter, may not necessarily be the person’s skin color. A series of inter-related aspects that combine sociological, political, psychological and biological factors is what defines the races. Thus, though the father in the slavery of getting rid of the native accent, he does not succeed because he is focused on only one factor describing his race.
The poet also seems to be suggesting that racism forces people to start new lives. In this poem, it is clear that the father has begun a new life, completed with a new lifestyle and tongue. The title of the literary work is rather curious: “My Father Learns to Speak (Again)”. The father is learning to speak, again! Obviously, being an adult, he already knows how to speak. It is obvious as well that he is not learning a new language, but is acquiring a new accent, one that can make him fit into the western culture, and hopefully evades the ravages of racial discrimination.
The persona seems to be displeased with the father’s new accent. This is quite clear when the voice of the poem avers “. . . long as you promise to speak / like you did when you were young” (Suarez and Cleave 133). This is further pointer to the stark ramifications of alienation and racial discrimination. The man in the poem stands to fall out with family and friends due to his blind adaptation to foreign ways. The man, therefore, has to speak the way he used to when he was a young boy, unadulterated.
It is also clear that the father is not only alienated from himself, but also from the family members and friends. The persona is glad that the father was ordained in New England, a city in America, nonetheless, disapproves of the father’s unnatural accent. The latter has imbibed a new way of pronouncing words, and this may drive a wedge between him and the rest of the family members. Therefore, one effect of racism was the strain it placed on households in the US.
Essentially, racial discrimination results into alienation. The father in the poem is alienated both from himself and the rest of the family. For fear of being discriminated against, he tries to conceal his native accent and acquire a foreign one. He is, consequently, alienated from his culture. Hence effect of racism is person’s alienation of his culture, family traditions and even normal existence.