Critically assess the contribution of postcolonial theorists to our understanding of the way the media report cultural difference. Refer to specific journalistic examples.
Postcolonialism is an era left over by history. This essay attempts to assess the contribution of postcolonial theorists and relevant philosophers (Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall) to our understanding of the way the media report cultural difference, specifically focus on the language and marriage issues in Hong Kong and Africa.
Colonialism means the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country or region, occupying it with settlers and exploiting it economically. After the end of colonial rule, intellectual discourses the analysis, explanation and response on the cultural legacies of colonialism. Postcolonialism discusses the relationship between suzerain and colony, it’s definition varied according to different historical eras and geographical areas rather than a rigid theory. Another name of postcolonialism is called ‘postcolonial criticism’. In fact, this is a aggregation of theoretical criticism, in which all the discourse are based on historical facts including the phenomenon of European colonialism and all sorts of consequences it caused.
Frantz Fanon as a vital postcolonial theorist, was a Martinque-born Afro-French who be treated by his French comrades with prejudiced like other Afro-French people confronted. His encounter with racism embittered him throughout his life. The book Black Skin, White Masks (1952) is an autobiographical account of his encounter.
Language issue is a key point that Fanon argues in the chapter one ‘The Negro and Language’. He ascribes a basic importance to the phenomenon of language:
In France one says, ‘He talks like a book.’ In Martinque, ‘He talks like a white man.’ The Negro arriving in France will react against the myth of the R-eating man from Martinique. He will become aware of it, and he will really go to war against it. He will practise not only rolling his R but embroidering it. … Recently an acquaintance told me a story. A Martinque Negro landed at Le Havre and went into a bar. With the utmost self-confidence he called, “Waiterrr! Bing me a beeya.” Here is a genuine intoxication. Resolved not to fit the myth of the nigger-who-eats-his- Rs, he had acquired a fine supply of them but allocated it badly. (Fanon, p.21)
Martinique people dislike other non-French Negro from Africa. However, as coloured people, they feel self-contemptuous when face to white people. For them, speaking French is a symbol of becoming white, or closer to the white. Colonial people admit the superiority of white people from subconscious. The value concepts of white are also be applied and embedded to themselves.
Also, the relationship between language and ethnicity would not only stay in speaking proper French or not, it is also reflected in the specific context when the white talk to their colonized black people. Euphemistically, kindly, politely speak to the them — in fact, that behavior is a sort of discrimination, as in stark contrast to the conversation between two white people talk unceremoniously and directly. The reason why black and white are treated as different ways is that white people think the unequal status between white and black, and in the eyes of white, black people like children who need cares, who need to be talked euphemistically, kindly and politely.
In Fanon’s point of view, speaking a different language is to consciously accept a different world and a different culture. According to him, accepting French language is the acceptance of western culture for black people, it is also means the acceptance of colonial structure. This is why black people would express admiration and envy to those black compatriot who can speak French properly.
Those ideas above of language colonialism may apply to the situation in Hong Kong. As a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War (1839-1842), Hong Kong had experienced more than 150 years of colonial era until 1997 when it was handed over to China. The combination of British and Chinese culture during the colonial epoch shaped the current culture of Hong Kong. Despite that period had been finished, however, the affects are still lasting till today. Two main phenomenons about languages directly show the colonial influences in Hong Kong:
– Popular Oxford English accent;
– Official languages of Hong Kong.
Language is a tool of communication, accent only shows mother tongue habits rather than a way of showing the height of social status. However, Oxford English accent is regarded as an elegant English accent in Hong Kong. People imitate Oxford accent, and Hong Kong media are keen on reporting it.
Apple Daily, a famed newspaper in Hong Kong, has reported a piece of news about criticizing people have Cantonese accent in speaking English which is not professional. Retired justice Sir T L Yang, artist Josephine and many other celebrities will join a nine-month “Speak Better English” Campaign, which is held by Oxford University Press, to encourage Hong Kong people to get rid of Cantonese accent and speak English well. (Apple Daily, 04/11/2003)
Another piece of news from Apple Daily published in 2010 has showed the Hong Kong media, subconsciously, considers Oxford accent as the perfectest English accent. Here I translate a part as one of examples:
Chinglish, means Chinese English, is the way of putting Chinese language habits into using English. For example, if you ask someone: Have you eaten your rice? Even though each word pronunciation is Oxford accent, even though there is no grammar mistake at all, ‘Have you eaten your rice’ is still a sentence of non-proper English. (Apple Daily, 06/08/2010)
These sort of news are not alone. Both these two journalistic examples above shows how Hong Kong media reacts to cultural difference, and the way they report affects the attitudes, understandings and opinions of the audiences/readers — us.
Hong Kong people learn Oxford accent to pursue ‘standard English’ pronunciation, is similar to the phenomenon that Fanon describes in his book that Martique people try hard to learn ‘proper French’.
Another direct impact in language is that English and Chinese languages are both declared to be the official languages of Hong Kong. To language extent, Hong Kong is a standard bilingual region. The popularizing rate of English is very high that Chinese and English are mainly accompanied by each other at the same time.
One of the main characteristics of postcolonialism is also related to the language colonialism issue: language and power.
Postcolonialism relies heavily upon a thesis of the relationship between discourse and power, said by French philosopher Michel Foucault. According to Foucault, any ‘knowledge’ in the world is a contest of discourse and power. One of the expressions of power is that knowledge could be said though a mouth, because this means you have the ‘power’ to show how or why this knowledge is thought as knowledge. In other words, to some extent, knowledge is equal to truth, whoever hold the authority has the power to claim truth. Foucault believes that ‘truth’ (actually is things be used as ‘truth’ in a certain historical environment) is the consequence of using power.
This is similar to Stuart Hall’s theory about Media Representation. One of Hall’s arguments is that ideology and power fix meaning, or attempt to lock meaning down, to impose one meaning on an event or an image. However, not all the meanings are equal. Hall believes that putting meanings into circulation and letting them become familiar to everyone is depends on who hold the power in society – whoever is in authority controls the meaning that actually begin to circulate.
Language is a basic but vital medium of communication, it relates to Foucault and Hall’s thesis. Back to centuries ago, reviewing all the different sort of colonialism, the most direct impact is language colonialism. Languages and power are inseparable, this is how it influents the colonies.
When Portuguese started to export the slaves from western Africa in 1441, the Atlantic slave trade had been began. In 1913, the only two independent countries in Africa were Republic of Liberia and Ethiopian Empire. Apart from these two countries, all others were controlled and colonized by western European countries.
Marriage seems a good way to change the fate of the colonial context and one’s own social status, in Fanon’s point of view. When a black woman married to a white man, it means this black woman is no longer a ‘black’ but ‘white’, as through the relationship of marriage, she actually links to the whites, and becomes relatively to the social status that white people have. If there is such a fate owned by a black woman, she will get many envy and jealousy from black females. Furthermore, this phenomenon would become an enduring news in their community, according to Fanon, in 1952.
Even if not marry to a white man, it is better and luckier to be married a half-breed man than a completely black man. The brown skin color of the half-breed is between blacks and whites, and it is closer to whites compare to blacks. Therefore, mestizo means closer to whites, higher social status and more superiority than the blacks.
So my mother, then, was a mixture? I should have guessed it when I looked at her light color. I found her prettier than ever, and cleverer, and more refined. If she had married a white man, do you suppose I should have been completely white? … And life might not have been so hard for me?
In a word, the race must be whitened; every woman in Martinique knows this, says it, repeats it. Whiten the race, save the race. (Fanon, p.47)
If a black woman got lucky with her white husband, then an expression of love to a black woman by a white man seems more incredible. There is a significance to that black woman. Because after then, she will get into a closed group and be recognized by this group of people. The psychological inferiority has completely disappeared. She is no longer the person who wanted to
be a white, she is white and she has entered the white world.
However, this is only what Fanon or other black woman thinks. But what is the reality? Sadly, 60 years after Fanon published the book, one of the famous Africa’s news websites Mail & Guardian (http://mg.co.za) has reported a news article in 2012 as the headline is “Colour bar still exists in relationships”:
When the National Party rose to power in 1948, one of the first pieces of apartheid legislation it passed was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (No 55) of 1949, which outlawed marriages between white people and people of other races.
In her findings Mojapelo-Batka reported that the six mixed-race couples she investigated in her study “initially experienced negative family and social reactions or disapproval, which resulted in the loss of valuable relationships and other disadvantages or challenges”. This was more than 30 years after the repeal of the Mixed Marriages Act.
The news article has reported an example about a black woman named Williams-Pretorius who has married to her white husband for nine years, but she is still not welcomed by her husband’s mother. Even the church counsellor told her that black and white people do not belong together and everyone thinks so.
“My husband is white and I am coloured,” she said. “It was extremely difficult for his mom, in particular, to come to terms with her son’s choice. She has done a lot to break up the relationship. My husband has been very supportive. It couldn’t have been easy for him, being in a position where he has no contact with his mom. It really is sad, but that is how it is. We have been together for 15 years and in March we will have been married for nine years. We have a five-year-old son who does not know that he has a grandmother.”
Desperate for support, Williams-Pretorius initially turned to a church counsellor. “When I started to tell my story, she said: ‘Yes, but black and white people do not belong together and everybody thinks so.’ I was dumbstruck. I left the counselling room that day in more pain than I was in when I arrived.”
Fanon, represents most of black people, believes that a good marriage would end the unequal relationships between black and white, but the media tells us that the reality seems very hard to make it come true. This journalistic example is entirely opposite to the contribution that Fanon made.
In conclusion, The main postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon has given us two various angles in this essay — language and marriage. Through some journalistic examples of Hong Kong and Africa to understand the media report cultural difference. Post-colonialism is not a time point; in contrast, it will last for a very long time. However, for my perspective, it will disappear as time goes by. Future generations may not have the same experience or feeling their colonized ancestor had. So, prejudice or discrimination, don’t worry, time would help.
(Total words: 2273)
• Fanon, F. (1967) Black Skin, White Masks (Trans. Charles Lam Markmann) New York: Grove Press.
• Hall, S. (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices.
• Foucault, M. Power/Knowledge New York: Pantheon Books.
• Mail & Guardian — Colour bar still exists in relationship
• Apple Daily