Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chapter 56: A Shloppy Africa

I want to write on this dear sweet blog, but there is just not much time with all the essays I have to write for school and all the reading I'm doing. And of course I have to make time for exercise. So, for a small sample of what I've been reading, you can enjoy this first draft (I will not be posting a follow up) of an essay for my postcolonial literature class. This is the class with the devil teacher who hates us all. No, really, she said so in class. To our faces. Also told us she doesn't care how she teaches, this is her last semester, but we aren't allowed to be sloppy. Only she is. She also told me in the second week of class that I was a racist. It had to do with Jane Eyre, I'll tell you later. When I tell you about Ohio too. So here is the essay, a small bit of what I've been writing. (Ignore the freakish formatting. I don't have time to correct it right now.)

Selected Nationalism
If a dog is taken to obedience school and trained by one person then taken home and given back to the owner, he will have a hard time adjusting to obeying this person who has fed him, raised him, and cared for him for most of his life. As far he knows, the one who taught him and showed him how to behave is the one who should be obeyed. Or emulated. That person is all he knows when it comes to living life as a “good dog”. This is how I understand nationalism in my studies so far. How can a people be jerked out of their way of life for generations then revert back to a hybrid of colonialism and tradition? That path is riddled with hypocrisy and confusion. Frantz Fanon takes an honest look at what he calls the “wretched of the earth”: the new middle class in a postcolonial land. Fanon’s theories and observations of struggling, failing middle class nationalism can be brought to life in a literary analysis of Ama Ata Aidoo’s “No Sweetness Here” and “Two Sisters”.  
In “No Sweetness Here”, Aidoo shows the many stages of colonialism and de-colonialism through various characters and illustrations. First is Maami Ama. She represents the old Africa struggling to find its new place in the world. She is strong and independent, willing to give up her son for her freedom. She is, as Fanon would say, the “underdeveloped middle class… which refuses to follow the path of revolution” (Fanon 1579). She is not interested in fighting for her home, is willing to pay the debts that her husband has settling on her, and is willing to give up her son. All she wants is the chance to live like she desires to. She is not interested in the new ways like Chicha.
The teacher is Aidoo’s representation of new Africa and the way the young generation has adapted—or conformed to—the colonial way of life. Fanon says that the new middle class’ work is to “keep in the running and to be part of the racket” (Fanon 1579). She is working a white job. She is going forward with the colonial way that has already been set down because she does not know, or remember, what it was before like Maami Ama does. Chicha’s nationalism has been implanted already. As far she knows, everything is fine and Maami Ama’s ideas are old.
Then there is Kwesi and his father. Kwesi is the land itself. He is the future of postcolonial Africa that Chicha, the new Africa, adores and wants to take with her into the future. He is a product of old Africa and that’s why he appeals to Chicha so much. Fighting to keep Kwesi (the land) is Kodjo Fi, Maami Ama’s husband, who here represents the mother country. Fanon says “Colonialism… recovers its balance and tries now to break that will to unity by using all the movement’s weakness” (Fanon 1584). Kodjo yells at Mammi Ama “[Kwesi] must be of some service to his father too” (Aidoo 68). He demands that he take Kwesi since he is only worth being a present to Maami Ama. The mother country says that the land must be taken since the “new underdeveloped middle class” does not know how to work it. She is undeserving.
Maami Ama may not make it through the rest of her life. She has lost everything she loved and everyone who supported her. She, like the African people when the West first imposed power, had no one to help defend her. All of her male relatives were dead and her aunts were as likely to call her a witch as her husband’s sisters. Chicha will do fine. Fanon says “the bourgeois caste draws its strength after independence chiefly from agreements reached with the former colonial power” (Fanon 1586). This is why Chicha, with her professional job, love for the old Africa, and compliance with colonialism will no doubt live a happy life. It also takes us into the second story.
With this quote in mind, we see how “Two Sisters” is a story about nationalism and a loyalty with what morally should be. It must be hard to be loyal to an Africa that is struggling to define who it is while still coveting outside fineries.
In “Two Sisters” nice things come from outside of Africa whether they are black shoes, cars, or sewing machine motors. Fanon says that “a national economy is an economy based on what may be called local products” and so in reply “they will surround the artisan class with a chauvinistic tenderness in keeping with the new awareness of national dignity (Fanon 1579). The subject of Aidoo’s story is material gain. But not through nationalism. Rather through the mother country and bowing to outside powers.
For Mercy, she latches on to these big men because she cannot see herself any other way. Fanon says, “they are completely ignorant of the economy of their own country” (1579). Mercy is suffering from what many girls do: undervaluing herself. But it’s more complicated than that as well. Mercy questions her sister at the beginning “Is typing the only thing one can do in this world?” (Aidoo 88). This symbol of struggling nationalism in Mercy shows Fanon’s theory true; “the tribe is preferred to the state” (Fanon 1578). Mercy wants an Africa she can love, does not like her colonial job, but cannot find any other way to live but by latching on to the big man. Should she go back to the primitive ways of ages past?
With James and the big men, they have taken the power and unfair advantages that have transferred to them from the colonial period and, in the case of James, hope to use them to their advantage (Fanon 1580). The big men use them to their advantage in that they can have whatever they want from abroad (the senator mentions going to London) and anything local and innocent like Mercy who struggles between the new Africa and old Africa and is in danger of being washed away.
Aidoo makes a great analogy of the ocean in the middle of her story. Mercy and Mensar-Arthur are out on a date in the car and Aidoo has them park alongside the gulf of Guinea. First, Aidoo shows you the ocean, the West, as devouring the houses and people of the native land. Next, Aidoo uses the analogy of the ocean washing away the houses and destroying things in its path as being Mensar-Arthur. He is big, important, can do as he pleases and moves on after he has wreaked his devastation. The big men no doubt live in the prosperous areas mentioned by Fanon. He says those lucky few “come to the forefront, and dominate the empty panorama which the rest of the nation presents” (Fanon 1583). Without him, the big man, this place is nothing. This struggle for nationalism ends there. If the land is not counted as whole, then it will be picked apart and the “useless” bits will be discarded. There will be no unity.
The idea of nationalism is as far in the future as it ever has been, according to Fanon. He concludes his essay with the gap that has not only formed within the tribes and religions but with “white” and “black” Africa. The separation we see in Aidoo’s stories of struggling peoples and classes are the micro versions of North and South of the Sahara. But Fanon says that the new African middle class is not doing much to change that. He calls it lazy and it has a will to imitate its western counterpart (Fanon 1585). The new middle class has not had to work its way there, it was left its place when they finally pushed the West out. But he leaves us on a positive note: “such men fight in a certain measure for the mass participation of the people…we must know how to use these men” (Fanon 1586). But postcolonial lands everywhere face the same problem. There is only a bourgeoisie class in the large cities established by the colonials, and outside of that, there is not much hope. A middle class is only in existence where there is economic value. And that, according to Fanon, is only in select parts of great Africa.