The Importance of Talking About Race and Racism in Literature

Literature is not just a platform for creative expression, but also for raising awareness about the issues of life and the society. It has many purposes: to express, comfort, challenge, inform, educate, and protest against something. Indeed, the very essence of literature is deeper than the showcase of creative prowess. Many authors use the platform of literature to open a discussion on things that matter.

Earl Robert Key, an author and master barber from Mississippi, is very much aware about this importance of literature in building discussions. More than just expressing himself, Earl Robert Key uses literature to encourage hope while talking about the common issues of the society. His most recent book, Strong Boy, Weak Man, for example, is a coming-of-age novel about a man named Mike who strives to succeed in his dreams despite facing racism, poverty, and family issues. Racism, particularly, is a stirring discussion included in the masterpiece of Earl Robert Key. Although it is not necessarily the central theme of the book, Strong Boy, Weak Man is able to bring up the issue of racism in a purposive manner.

The inspiration taken from the work of Earl Robert Key engenders the main point of this article – why is it important to talk about race and racism in literature? Below is a brief answer to such question.

What is race and racism?

Race refers to the categorization or grouping of people according to their physical or social qualities, which are distinct to their particular society. Every racial category or group is different from the others. The differences between races are typically seen in the skin complexion, cranial and facial feature, language, and culture of their people. In the United States, there are five officially recognized racial categories. This includes White American, Black or African American, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Asian American, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders.

When clashes between these so-called races occur, racism arises. Racism essentially refers to the discrimination and antagonism of people against any specific race, which may lead them to treat others differently. Racism encompasses both the actions and the attitude or behavior of people who are being discriminatory or prejudicial against a specific race. When racism becomes institutional, the people who belong to the targeted race may experience different forms of discrimination, maltreatment, and sometimes even violence. This vicious nature of racism has been repeatedly proven throughout history when races that are deemed inferior are being subjected to systemic oppression. The legacy of slavery in the United States, especially during the 1700s, is a classic example of this.

Why is it important to write about race and racism?

Writing about race in literature is important primarily because it helps promote respect and acceptance for different identities. Humans are not homogeneous.  There exists many differences within the human race. These differences, however, should not used by any person or any race against the others. People should understand that no race is superior over another. Just because there are differences does not mean that there is or that there should be a hierarchy. People who belong to the Black American race is just as human as those who belong to the White American race. All people, regardless of whatever categories of identities they to, are equal. This push for equality is the main reason why it is necessary to talk about race in literature.

In the same manner, racism is also necessary to be written about in the literary platform because doing so raises so much awareness on the issue. Racism has been a long-standing problem of the society. Millions of people from around the world have been victims of discrimination and prejudice stemming from racism. This form of oppression as well as the race-based privilege that continuously lurks in the society should be eliminated – and writing about it in literature certainly helps. By writing about racism, many people are being made aware of the existence and the negative consequences of this form oppression. To write about racism is also to call for its complete eradication.

Overall, writing about race and racism is consistent to the purposes of literature – to inform, educate, comfort, and challenge. The narratives about race and racism written in literature, both academic and fiction, have greatly helped in bringing these topics to the discussion table. More and more people are now talking about race and racism, calling for nothing but equality and protesting against prejudice.


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