The oppression of black people through different forms of authority systems may have similar consequences even in different places. From watching Spikes Lee’s movie about the life of Malcolm X, reading Tony Morrison’s novel “Beloved” and considering some of the information that still lingers in our times regarding South Africa’s history, it may be possible to deduct a relation of some sort. The violation, undermining and repression that were caused to become part of black people’s lives prevail in the previously mentioned movie, novel and history. The connections between the repression and consequential struggles of black people in different contexts and geographies form the main focus of this essay.
By realising that black people still need to be emancipated from a whole lot of the struggles that they currently experience, I believe it is most important to understand the meaning of slavery and how it functions as a tool of repression. According to Fage (1969, p. 394) slavery is a form of servitude by a man or woman to an individual who is referred to as a master mostly because the man or woman who serve have been traded to serve as a slave. The slave is a person who becomes a subject of another person because of the socio-political or privileged power that the mastering individual has because of wealth, race or societal position. Defining slavery only according to the physical servitude would mean the mind of the slave is independent from what the slave does as a subject of his or her master. This aspect makes it important to also be aware that the mind of a slave operates in a certain manner. The mind of a slave functions in a subservient manner and is at most times not open to opportunities of thoughts about becoming better than being enslaved, because of the conditions of poverty from which slaves are taken. From the movie “Malcolm X”, the life of Malcolm X is introduced as one that has no originality of being black. Acting superior because of imitating the white man’s superior image proves its prominence in this instance. The wearing of a suit and tie, straightening of hair and egocentric behaviour all reflect efforts of esteeming being white as the ultimate success. Malcolm X had not been a slave but he lived during the times when slavery had just ended but black people still perceived white people as superior beings from childhood, because slavery had left black people in undesirable situations. The desire to become white probably escalated throughout the black population because of the lack of a defining culture for black people at that time.
We can relate this desire to become white with the storyline of Kopano Matlwa’s novel “Coconut”, where we learn about two young females who do not want to identify themselves with the black and unprivileged. Refilwe and Ofilwe are young women in “Coconut” and their lives are portrayed as unreal as well as uncultured because of the impoverished situations that the apartheid system left black people in. The two ladies saw how the white and privileged lived in their wealthy spaces and developed a desire to become a part of those whose societal class was higher. The previous paragraph brings us more information to what we may refer to as the manner in which slaves think or slave mentality in short. In Morrison’s novel, Sethe is a mother of four and we learn that in fear of seeing her children become slaves she tries to kill them. One of the children dies and the woman’s attempt to kill her offspring can be perceived as something she has learned. Slaves were subject even to being murdered by their masters or law enforcers so because these killings were often done while others slaves watch, the act of killing was one which was learned by the slaves if we consider the behaviourism theory. This theory teaches that people learn behaviour through observing watched and measured behaviour by others (Danley, James, Mims & Simms, 2014, p. 12). Inasmuch as Malcolm X, Refilwe and Ofilwe copied white people’s behaviours they were exposed to, I believe that Sethe also copied what she also was exposed to. Sethe assumed the position of superiority to her children and could do as she pleased with them. Morrison’s presents a form of hierarchy of power with this part of the novel. Sethe’s life was controlled and she then exercised control over the children she gave birth to instead of permitting them the right to live and experience life as they would.
This hindrance from living can also be related to the situations that Malcolm X and the young women in “Coconut” also experienced. Malcolm wanted to become a lawyer but was told by his teacher that he should do work like carpentry because he is black. Despite obtaining very good grades in a class full of white learners, the white privileged attempted to prevent Malcolm from thinking beyond his designed position as a black person. Ofilwe as a black girl raised her hand in class when the teacher asked who spoke English and although she understood how to speak the language very well, she was excluded from identifying with white learners whose home language was supposedly English. More on this hindrance, all the characters I have referred to from “Coconut”, “Malcolm X” and “Beloved” hail from a history were cultures that are directly attached and originated to their race have been corrupted and overpowered by white dominance.
The presentation of Sethe’s dead daughter appearing as a ghost can be described as the use of magical realism in “Beloved”. Remembering that the ghost may not necessarily have been a true ghost but some sort of representation by Morrison, it is important to understand Morrison’s intention about using the ghost. The ghost may be a representation of the guilt, longing and regret felt by Sethe from the time she killed Beloved.
With the awareness of her other children growing and surviving through the poor conditions that they lived in, Sethe must have felt a deep remorse about the killing of Beloved. Paul D’s chasing away of the ghost may represent the temporary relief that he brought Sethe by loving her. Sethe’s murder of her own daughter with the intention of protecting her from being a slave became a reality that she had to live with long after the occurrence of the murder. In Lee’s movie, we see Malcolm stealing some jewellery with his friend, drinking heavily and abusing drugs. Malcolm keeps mentioning these previously mentioned deeds that he had repented from long after serving his jail sentence. The remembrance of past deeds that are not socially acceptable obviously lived along with Malcolm and Sethe although the deeds were efforts of emancipation for themselves and in Sethe’s case, her children as well. Becoming an instrument of criminal activities seems to be an engagement of each individual who seek to be emancipated from the repression they are a part of. Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was charged with two counts of murder and three charges that were linked to terrorism because of bringing African National Congress (ANC) pamphlets, ammunition and explosives into South Africa (SAHO, 2017). Hailed as an activist who fought against the repression of black people due to the apartheid system, Mahlangu seems to be not too different from Malcolm and Sethe.
Criminal activities were for Malcolm, Sethe and Solomon practiced as a way of resisting the enforced definitions of black people. Although “Beloved” was set during the times when slavery was still permitted and “Malcolm X” in post-slavery times, it is vivid that being resistant to repression was of urgent necessity. In the urgent need to liberate themselves, we can refer to their responses as resistances to devastation (Bussie, p. 168). Extreme poverty is a common characteristic of the three above mentioned people’s lives. As we view Lee’s movie about Malcolm, we learn that he had many siblings and that his mother could not really provide for all of them, so Malcolm was taken in to live with a white family to ensure that he survives. From Malcolm’s adoption, we learn that even after the days of slavery, black people were subject to white power because Malcolm’s mother did not want her children to be taken away from her but it was done anyway (Winn, 2001, p. 459). This adoption is in some way no different from the taking of children in Africa to becoming slaves in America because they were taken from black parents by white people.
Sethe lived at a house that was not suit for people because of her impoverished condition but her attempt to kill her children occurred at a time when she was staying at Sweet Home (ironic name for the place). In trying to prevent her children from experiencing devastation she tried to kill them. Sethe ended up becoming a single parent because Halle her husband was nowhere to be found at the time they took different directions during their helpless escape. Solomon was raised by a single mother who was a domestic worker and did not complete his education because of the riots that were taking place (SAHO, 2017). We learn that his family thought he was still selling goods on trains but he had joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (meaning “The Spear of the Nation”) which was a military force of the ANC during the apartheid era. Solomon’s activist mission is similar to that of Malcolm X’s in the sense that Malcolm’s mother was probably of the thought that Malcolm had become one of those black people who lived like the privileged. A further relation can be made with Khumbu’s life in Jonathan Nkala’s “The Crossing” since we learn from its narrator that Khumbu left to South Africa without telling the truth to his mother about his intentions. Like Malcolm and Solomon, Khumbu acted in response of the devastating conditions of poverty that he faced back in Kwekwe, which was his hometown in Zimbabwe.
Clearly a disconnection with family occurred throughout the days when black people made attempts to become free from being subjects to white power. Becoming uncultured in an originally African manner is also a mission that exists even to this day since the educational content that black people learn in schools is still based majorly on white culture. Much does not seem to have changed even though the Civil Rights movement and the Constitution of South Africa proposes the right to equality for all. Black people’s lives are still trapped and devastated by poverty, subject to white power and unable to match the standard of literacy envisioned in work places especially in South Africa. Unfortunately for the black people who cannot afford to be compete with the higher class, the future still needs to be carved with Malcolm X was competent enough to become a good lawyer because he was more intelligent than his white school mates and he had a very good command of the English language. Sethe’s loyalty to Halle definitely made her the envisioned woman of a good society unlike the adulterous white character named Madame in Ferdinand Oyono’s “Houseboy”. From the literary artworks referred to in this essay, a common statement that can be made can be mingled with a prevalent truth that says the place of the black child in the world is under reconstruction.
The lives of Sethe and Malcolm X represent the position of black people from child to adulthood in different periods of repression. Although claims of rights that assume freedom have been made on a governmental level, the majorly ignored consequences of unfair governance keep people in alarmingly devastating conditions. Culture, the value of life and survival are also subsequently left in devastated conditions thus leaving the black person without an identity that is original to self. “Malcolm X” and “Beloved” can surely be characterized as artworks that depict the situations resultant of the resistant efforts of the nonprivileged against repressive authorities.