In my Humanities Core lectures this previous week, Professor Lazo brought up an intriguing point about the narrator for Waiting for the Barbarians having a sort of unreliable, “anti-representational” way of telling the story. This sprouted a discussion of the meaning of what is representational and if one thing is necessarily more representational than another. This connects to a piece we read the previous week, an essay from Edward Said’s “The Politics of Knowledge”, where Said argues that, “…it does not finally matter who wrote what, but rather how a work is written and how it is read.” These two pieces connect to each other as they both bring up the point of perspective. Personally, I disagree with Said’s argument of the irrelevance of the writer of a piece, as it is crucial to obtain different perspectives that people may have about a certain subject. I also disagree with Professor Lazo’s statement about the Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians being an “anti-representational” narrator, as his way of narrating is not so much anti-representational as it is just being a different perspective on the state of empire during his time. As the Magistrate is in this sort of intermediate state between the barbarians and the empire, he does not truly understand either the intentions of the empire or the behavior of the barbarians.
This concept of different perspectives applies to the problem with many white Americans not understanding how people of color, especially black Americans, in America are oppressed in today’s society. These white Americans, due to not seeing for themselves the difficulties black Americans go through on a day-to-day basis, choose to dismiss their hardships. They believe that equality has already been achieved and they also believe that social movements to fight racism are pointless. For example, an article called “Why Manipulate the Tragedy of Trayvon Martin?” posted on The National Review by Heather Mac Donald, Mac Donald attempts to statistically prove racism is nonexistent by setting the bar low and talking about murder:
“Most homicides are intraracial, but that change of a black being killed by a white or Hispanic is much lower than the chance that a white or Hispanic will be killed by a black. Seventeen percent of what the FBI calls ‘white’ homicide victims in 2009 were killed by blacks, compared to 8 percent of black homicide victims who were killed by ‘whites.'”
However, Mac Donald’s point is clearly ridiculous, as by having such low expectations of people (how often people are killing each other), racism has suddenly “disappeared.” Mac Donald’s point just further proves that you must look beyond the surface in order to truly see and analyze the actual situations that are occurring, rather than just nationwide, statistical averages. For example, in Jesse Benn’s article titled “Next Time Someone Asks You to Prove Racism Exists, Give Them This,” Benn states:
“And while we’ve progressed over time, we’ve never neared equity. Hell, Old Jim Crow represented progress at one point, but it certainly didn’t mark an end to racism; though I’m sure plenty of whites at the time argued it did… As laws change and particular manifestations of racism fade from societal acceptance racism doesn’t end, it evolves.”
Benn agrees that much of the systematic racism that existed centuries ago have made tremendous progress, however racism is no longer just prohibiting black people from voting or having the same facilities as whites. Racism in today’s society, especially American society, is in the job market, where certain names are more employable than others; it is in our prison system, where black people are incarcerated more often with longer sentences than the white man; and quite simply, it is in the way some white people even look at black people, already with a preconceived notion of who they think they are and how they think they’ll act, solely due to the color of their skin.
These ideas of anti-representation and perspective come into play in many other areas as well. I disagree with Said’s point on the irrelevance of who wrote a piece of work, as clearly the issue with perspective occurs, as seen in our modern-day society about the issue of racism. In addition, similar to Waiting for the Barbarians, there is no such thing as “anti-representation”; there are just differing perspectives that one must make an effort to look for and observe intently in order to see the actual circumstances at hand.