Ever since Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th president of United States of America in January 20, 2017 his hostility and indifference towards black community and other minorities in America, has again triggered the discussions on the notions of racism, culture and equality. Recently the American horror film ‘Get out’ directed by Jordan Peele also threw limelight to self-destruction of blacks when they try to imitate the dominant, white life style. For black people, these contempt, spitefulness and marginalization on the account of their race are nothing new. Several authors like Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, Amiri Baraka and James Baldwin of Afro-American literature have focused on this segregation of blacks under white supremacy in their works. Amiri Baraka, a prominent African – American writer has tried to explore the theme of black identity and self-consciousness in his phenomenal drama Dutchman (1964).
Baraka showcases the hardships endured by the blacks to hide their true identity, in an attempt to earn a standard living in a white dominated American society. In Dutchman, the main protagonist Clay is torn between his black identity and capitalist ideologies. It leads the blacks to consider about the self-predatory mechanism they have unconsciously deployed in destroying their cultural identity altogether. Thus Amiri Baraka’s magnum opus Dutchman could be considered as a masterpiece in portraying the mental and physical agonies of black Americans.
The African American literature as a stream is written by the writers of African descent mostly living in United States. Though it has begun as slave narratives it gradually gained momentum as a stream with the flourishing of Harlem Renaissance. Starting from Phillis Wheatley, the first African – American to publish her works till Toni Morrison, African American authors, has initiated a cultural, literary and socio-political transformation in the structure of American society. It explored the themes of racial tensions, culture, identity, segregation and also the condition of African people in various regions. Today, African American literature is regarded as an inevitable part of American literature. Following the assassination of the Malcolm X, the black political movements for equality and freedom, enflamed American Cities for several days. The then president Lyndon B Johnson commissioned Kerner commission to study on these civil disorders and the commission reported that, “Our Nation is moving towards two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” The polarization of two different races which is continuing for centuries in America has been clearly mentioned in this report.
LeRoi Jones or Imamu Amiri Baraka was born in New Jersey, America in 1934 and he emerged as a prominent African-American writer. The assassination of the Malcolm X led him to break away with white culture and he began to embrace his black identity. He founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/ School which promoted the development of Black Cultures. He is also considered as the father of the Black Arts Movement which emerged during 1960s and 1970s. His works are spread across different genres like poetry, drama, novel, jass operas and non – fiction. His works reflects the age- old sufferings of black people and he warns the tendency of black people to assimilate themselves to the white culture and identity. He offers a matrix for the emergence of Black Nationalism in a racist society through his work Dutchman. He spreads awareness among the blacks about the dangers of assimilating them to an alien, dominant and oppressive white American society. His one act play Dutchman was first acted at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City and it has won the Obie award for the best off- Broadway play and it brought him to the critical attention of American public. Critic Clayton Riley commented on Dutchman it as the “Finest short play ever written in the country.”
The racial conflicts in America emerge from the belief that whites are superior to black people. This full blown belief system of white supremacy has been deeply woven into the texture of the lives of black people. In order to explain the inner conflicts and double identity faced by black people under white supremacism, W. E. B. Du Bois Coined the term ‘Double Consciousness’. This term was first used in an Atlantic Monthly article titled “Strivings of the Negro People” It was later republished in his auto ethnographic book titled The Souls of Black Folk. He defines the term as the conflict of looking into one’s self through the eyes of others or a white. W. E. B. Du Bois explains; Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world – a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
Amriri Baraka’s Dutchman is about the meeting of a Black man, Clay with a white woman called Lula on the subway train. Clay, a young intellectual from a middle class family, is on the way to attend a party of one his friends. He is an apt representation of black masculinity. His buttoned down collar and suit clearly shows that how badly he wants to shed his black identity. He adopts the life style of capitalist American society. Lula, after entering the train notices this tendency of cultural assimilation of clay and she introduces herself to him. She is a hypocrite, temptress, racist and flirtiest woman who is a symbolic representation of Eve. Just like Eve tempts Adam to commit their first disobedience, Lula tries to tempt Clay. She sits near him by eating an apple and continues their flirtatious talk. Lula then mocks and insults Clay for giving up his black identity to adapt himself to the white culture. At first, Clay doesn’t succumb to her plans, but gradually he becomes resentful at her comments on him. Finally, he loses his temper and he slaps Lula twice to shut her up. He explodes to her through his words, by showing the racial hatred lies in him “They’ll murder you, and have very rational explanations. Very much like your own. They’ll cut your throats, and drag you out to the edge of your cities”. He explains to Lula that this manner of living was an attempt to control his basic instincts, which Lula accidently prompt outward. Enraged Clay continues his verbal abuse on Lula, and ultimately she stabs him to death. The other passengers are passive onlookers to this violent activity and none of them speak a word against this atrocity. Rather, they help her to throw away Clay’s body from the train. From the next station another Negro boy boards the train, and Lula prepares for her next temptation drama. The play explores the themes racial oppression, cultural assimilation and segregation of blacks in a white dominated society. As a character, clay is torn in between his black self and his tendency to identify himself in a white culture. Even in the contemporary society, the black people living in white dominated region feels this kind of alienation based on their race and colour. According to a study made by The Guardian newspaper: Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015, according to the findings of a Guardian study that recorded a final tally of 1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers this year. Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.
Baraka here exposes the problems, identity crisis and mental agony endured by blacks in a white dominated American society. The intention of the authors seems to give a warning to the blacks who want to assimilate to white culture by forging their identity. He declares that this tendency of Blacks is never going to grant them any freedom or new identity; rather it is making their situation worse than ever. Author subtly implies at a social change through revolutionary modes. The title itself has got some significance in representing the theme of the play. The title Dutchman alludes to the myth of lost ghost ship ‘flying Dutchman this got lost near Cape Town. It is also the name of a ship that carried the first group of black slaves to America. By using this title the author implies that the non-recognition of blacks as fellow beings will lead America to its doom. He narrates the othering of coloured people in a white hegemonic society .Clay tries to live his life up to the standard of whites and he hopes that one day will be living like them. His dressing style and attitude makes his intention clearly visible to the readers.
Thus we can conclude that in Dutchman Amiri Baraka explores the ‘othering of blacks’ in a white dominated society. As the racial tensions between these two races again rise in America and across the world, this one act play by Amiri Baraka is also gaining attention for its portrayal of never ending agony and frustration between them. He foretells that these conflicts will gradually destroy America just like the Dutchman ended so my lives of Blacks. Amiri Baraka skilfully deploys his artistic skills to impart a new identity to the black consciousness. He quite successfully roots out the white ideology and values incorporated to the artistic field by highlighting blackness through his play ‘Dutchman’.
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