Race, Ethnicity, and Post Colonial Criticism

Race, Ethnicity, and Post-Colonial Analysis

Note: First of all, no one in this room is personally responsible for enslaving or invading anyone—so lets not speak in a manner that would suggest that. Also statements like “black people,” “white people,” “Chinese people” or “Mexicans” are all equally inaccurate, so lets not throw those around either. There is no blanket statement that can be used as an appropriate generalization. Let’s continue to treat each other with respect.



Racism--the differential treatment of people based on racial identity

Ethnocentrism—the viewing of one’s own ethnic group’s perspectives as universally legitimate and appropriate for all

Race—the ways that physiological characteristics (such as skin tone) are combined with distinctions in social history (such as region of original habitation) to distinguish and identify groups of people.

Ethnicity—is not the same as race. This term refers to non- physiological aspects of cultural identity, such as religious affiliation and/or shared customs or language.

Post-coloniality—national and regional legacies of imperialism and colonialism (the domination and occupation of certain nations and regions of the world by others)



Explores the complex relationship between a text and its social context, tracing the many ways in which the belief system of a time and place are reflected in and potentially altered by literary and other forms of representation.


Central to all such critiques is the recognition that racism and ethnocentrism have been thoroughly entrenched in language, literature, art, and social institutions.


Race, Ethnicity, and Post-coloniality indicate three different possible emphases in literary and cultural analysis, but they share a commitment to challenge oppression based on cultural identity, seeking to enrich our understanding of the diverse experience and rich heritages of all groups and peoples.


Key Principles

Key Principle 1: Categories of race and ethnicity have been used in ways that have empowered and oppressed.

            Begin by recognizing that the social meanings ascribed to categories of race and ethnicity have lead to profound injustices. Racism and ethnocentrism have been forces plaguing almost every society and region of the world, as differences in appearance, language, and customs have been used to designate groups of us  and them or self and other, with the unique characteristics of them perceived as a threat to security and the interests of us.  Anger, suspicion and hatred have developed from the ignorance that geographic and linguistic separation breeds.

            Because of past conquering technological and economic advances have only been possible for certain groups. These groups are thus able to dominate and exploit others.


Key Principle 2: The differentiation of peoples is reflected in and reinforced by language and metaphor

            Skin Color

Different skin colors have unequal meanings—even in subtle shadings—in the Western world.

Whiteness and lightness have long been equated with goodness and purity, as well as intellectual and spiritual superiority. Darkness is traditionally associated with evil and debasement. Thus one of the fundamental ways in which Western culture has made meaning—through opposing whiteness to blackness and assigning clear values to them—has led to racist judgments and actions, masking their social construction with an appearance of “naturalness.” When doing this style of criticism one should begin by tracing the ways in which such an opposition reveals itself within a text, continuing on to examine the consequences for characters and groups of a reliance on the binaries of black and white.


Hateful and derogatory terms are often utilized  by the powerful to “put people in their place” and demonstrate precisely who has the ability to name others and assign them a social role and value. Some textual analysis focuses on such linguistic reflections of power, as well as the many responses to that power shown by the oppressed (including the appropriating of an oppressive term for use within the oppressed group itself, in an attempt to deflate its power)

The Battle for social power and recognition is often reflected in a battle of over language, for in asserting a right to name itself and express itself, a group asserts its ownership of itself, demonstrating that whatever form of oppression—slavery, imprisonment and expropriation—may have existed in the past, the group is, in fact, neither owned by nor inherently subordinate to any other.


Key Principle 3: This differentiation of peoples, as well as forces of economic greed and expansionism, are also reflected in a centuries—long history of imperialism and colonization

            Postcolonial studies examines the legacy of the brutal development  of power and the linger effects of the European domination that spread in the 17th-19th century. IT seeks to explore the political and cultural aftermath of colonization and to examine the profound changes wrought on the colonized people.


            Questions to ponder

            What forms of protest literature and art arose under colonialism?

            How were colonizers and the colonized represented in these mediums?

            How were the self-perceptions and sense of self-worth of indigenous peoples changed by the imposition of foreign languages, values, and social definition?

What attempts to recover traditions and other preexisting aspects of culture have followed the retreat of imperial armies?

            How have those attempts fared as European traditions and cultural norms have continued to be disseminated through music, film, and other cultural forms?

            How do lingering economic disparities, international trade policies, and corrupt political institutions continue as subtle effects of imperialism?

            How do literary and other cultural texts address these issues and offer implicit or explicit solutions to complex social and cultural problems?


Key Principle 4: This differentiation of people and its political consequences are reflected not only in literary and other forms of representation but also in our very notion of literature

            Be careful of the implicit biases that underlie a text’s characterizations and themes and at the same time be aware of the many ways in which reader may respond to a given text, perhaps accepting, rejecting, or completely negotiating with its belief system.


Key Principle 5: Thus an understanding of textual reflections of racism and ethnocentrism demands an attention to the cultural history and belief system of the social group(s) being portrayed and discussed

            Important for all analysis in the study of race, ethnicity, and post-coloniality is a careful attention to the history and culture of the social groups under consideration.


Key Principle 6: The analysis of racism and ethnocentrism in texts from the past may have relevance to the ways we live our lives today

            The literary critic should understand as fully as possible the social context from which a given text emerged and ponder how it reveals beliefs and struggles that persist to this day.


Key Principle 7: Textual analysis of race, ethnicity, and post-coloniality can serve as a starting point for positive forms of social change in the future.