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1 “I Crying for Me Who No One Never Hold Before”

1 “I Crying for Me Who No One Never Hold Before”

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chips and cashews and Mary Jane candies. No Almond Joy-colored girls

like me” (p.  39). Young Maleeka is also envious of her friend Malcolm

at her school for having “a white dad and a black momma” (p. 17), with

“long, straight hair [and] skin the color of a butterscotch milkshake”

(p.  17). In her very own words, Malcolm is “lucky” simply because he

“looks more like his dad than his mom” (p. 17).

When their self-perceptions are constantly doubted and ultimately

reduced to nothingness—ugly black grease to be wiped away, punish, kilt,

changed, finded a job for, and when physically morphing themselves into

‘blue-eyed’ skinny children with ‘long, straight hair’ is apparently their

only alternative available, Precious and Maleeka open up an old, hidden

wound that, for centuries, has haunted American blacks, a wound that has

often been treated, unfortunately, as their own individual psychological

flaws, leaving them, as a result, in a perpetual state of self-condemnation.

It is the representation of this kind of experience of inferiority and its

subsequent psychological devastation portrayed in both fictional and

nonfictional works that has become the provenance and premise of this

book. Whether it is taken directly from lived reality as the one undergone

by young Claudette Colvin in Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice

Toward Justice (2009), a National Book Award winner for young people’s literature—“Though being smart was an asset, Claudette soon found

that having light skin and straight hair was the surest key to popularity at

Booker T.  Washington” (p.  22)—or channelled through fictional characters as portrayed by Precious and Maleeka, the paralleled experience is

equally distressing. This book is thus set up to explore, through its focus

children’s and young adult (C&YA) texts, such racially silent/silenced

experiences and to un-silence them.

Both fictional and nonfictional representations cited above have compellingly captured the life of young African American girls caught in a

racial tide and harmed by self-inflicted psychological mutilations. From a

theoretical perspective, this type of racially and psychologically devastating

experience is an example of what has been formally identified as internalised racism or internalised racial oppression or psychological slavery or

a much-criticised term—racial self-hatred. As a theme, internalised racism has always been explored or treated, though ‘peripherally’, by African

American authors of both C&YA and adult literature. Toni Morrison’s

first novel, The Bluest Eye (1999), an adult book focalised through a

child narrator, is arguably the first full-length novel that puts this racial

issue at the centre, depicting how internalised white beauty standards or



INTRODUCTION



3



idealised whiteness can destroy the life of both black girls and women, or

what George Yancy (2008) refers to as “the psychological price paid for

bleaching the Negro soul in a flood of whiteness” (p. 184). Subsequent

titles by other contemporary African American authors that have helped

push this issue to the fore, particularly those representing the realm of

C&YA literature, include, among others, Rosa Guy’s The Music of Summer

(1992), Jacqueline Woodson’s I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This (1994)

and Feathers (2007), Sharon Flake’s The Skin I’m In (1998) and Who

Am I without Him? (2005), Nikki Grimes’s Bronx Masquerade (2002)

and The Road to Paris (2006), Julius Lester’s Day of Tears (2005). These

titles, some of which are included as this book’s focus texts, have helped

magnify the issue through the eye of a fictional child, consequently making internalised racism immediate and real, reaffirming, once again, that

race/racism in America is never a thing of the past, and that postracial

or ‘race-less’ America (Bernard, 2011), a catchphrase currently dominating American racial discourse, is perhaps far-fetched, elusive and futile.

Also, as the emergence of African American C&YA literature is consistent with that of African American literature (Anatol, 2011; Smith, 2002;

Johnson-Feelings, 1990) in that it attempts, as suggested by Rudine Sims

Bishop (2012), to respond “to the social, political, and economic circumstances in which Black people in the United States have historically found

themselves—a part of and yet apart from American society” (p. 10), these

C&YA titles and their authors, therefore, have helped shape and form

an integral part of the rich body of what is presently known as not only

African American C&YA literature but also African American literature.

In essence, Precious, Maleeka and Claudette come to exemplify young

adults who have been socially and psychologically programmed to perceive

themselves as being ‘less’, and who often wish that they looked more like

the dominant group—“a blue-eye skinny chile whose hair is long braids,

long long braids” (Sapphire, 1996, p.  64). Unfortunately, these young

female characters equate ‘black’ with inferiority and ‘white’ with beauty

and superiority. By tracing their journeys from self-denigration to selfaffirmation, from invisibility to liberation and empowerment—some of

the recurring themes fundamentally permeating African American C&YA

and adult literature (Anatol, 2011; Rountree, 2008; Smith, 2002), these

C&YA texts are not only disclosing an interesting and integral part of the

present state of race in contemporary racialised America, particularly its

deleterious psychological effects towards the young and vulnerable but

they are also defamiliarising the very racial issue that otherwise has become



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normalised in American racial discourse, or what bell hooks, in Writing

Beyond Race (2013), refers to as “the normalized practices of racism and

white supremacy” (p.  9). And this is one crucial aim that this book is

attempting to uncover and achieve.

Also, what makes this particular racial issue worth examining or

un-silencing, given its prevalence as a theme in contemporary African

American literature, including C&YA literature, is the simple fact that the

attention given to it in both race and literary scholarships has been few and

far between. Perhaps it is due in part to the discomfort and embarrassment

raised by the subject, especially how the blame is always put on victimised

individuals as their own psychological flaws instead of structural defects

or racial inequalities, which evidently reflects, as suggested by bell hooks

(2013) and Ellen Herman (1995), America’s long obsession with psychology. And this very obsession has compounded the matter, resulting,

unfortunately, in social problems being viewed or evaluated solely through

the lens of psychology instead of politics. Another aim of this book, therefore, is to explore, through fictional representations of the focus C&YA

texts, whether it is individuals’ flaws or structural defects that lie at the

heart of this racial malady.

Although the issue of internalised racism has been portrayed in various

channels over the years—autobiographies, essays, poetry, films, documentaries, novels—its place in critical literary research, including C&YA literature, has been limited, resulting, as shall be discussed further in the next

chapter, in this racial issue being misunderstood, understudied and, therefore, theoretically void. It is my intention, therefore, to revisit this very

issue through the eye of a fictional child, with Critical Race Theory (CRT)

as my key theoretical underpinning, to seek new messages, viewpoints and

positions on the issue of internalised racism, and also, and crucially, to seek

to develop a new critical discourse regarding this silenced racial topic in

relation to C&YA fiction. Principally, this book focuses on the interplay

between CRT and internalised racism and asks the following: (1) what

effects does internalised racism have on the marginalised characters, and

what are its manifestations? (2) what narrative strategies have been used by

the authors to help the main characters regain and reclaim their sense of

self? and (3) what is the contribution of CRT to C&YA literature?

In his discussion of African American literature and legal history, JonChristian Suggs (2010) argues that African American fiction/nonfiction

and the law are closely related, “The textual body of each, taken broadly,

can be read as the basis for an alternative text of the other” (p. 325). The



INTRODUCTION



5



law, as Suggs suggests, is central and omnipresent in African American

literature, dictating and determining “the creation of African American

racial and personal identity” (p. 328). Its centrality in black literary texts

is very much attributed to the fact that the black body has always been

legally ‘marked’ historically as properties or objects, with no or limited

legal rights, depending on the needs of the dominant group, “Africans

in America were, by the founding of the republic, romantic constructs

absent the quality of person ...; imbued only with the property of being

property; never capable of owning property” (p.  329, see also the discussion of CRT’s Differential Racialisation in the next chapter). Whilst

African American literature from 1825 to 1960, explicitly or subtextually,

centres around the law, from 1970 to present, Suggs argues, it attempts to

‘decentre’ the law, yet the law “emerges as central to [its] content, form,

and ideological concerns” (p. 328). As most of the texts included in this

book, as will be explored in later chapters, are a testament to Suggs’s arguments, it is only fitting, therefore, that a ‘law’ theory is made an integral

part of this literary endeavour.

As a recognised body of enquiry and as a movement, CRT is made up

of scholars and activists, with a clear common goal—“Studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power” (Delgado and

Stefancic, 2012, p. 3). Initiated in the mid-1970s as a critique of constitutional law, it has now spread to various academic disciplines, including

the humanities. Researchers in Education, Political Science and Ethnic

and Gender Studies, for example, have now considered themselves critical

race theorists, utilising CRT and its theoretical frame—though without

an activist dimension—to investigate pressing issues concerning their own

disciplines, thus making CRT even more fast-growing. Yet, it has not been

applied to this genre in a book-length project. As a theoretical and analytical tool, CRT is certainly a terrain unfamiliar to most literary scholars.

By breaking this new ground, I hope this book will become a valuable

addition to the field that clearly deserves more critical literary research

(Rountree, 2008; Johnson-Feelings, 1990).

I am drawing on CRT, which is grounded on theoretical, practical as

well as ‘activist’ dimensions, as my principal analytical tool to approach

the focus C&YA texts charged with racial conflicts, for the following

reasons. Firstly, given the pervasiveness of race, racism and racialisation

in present-day America, the theory takes into consideration both overt

and hidden racial injustice that has still permeated different spheres of

contemporary racialised America after the civil rights era. Secondly, it



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offers multilayered and realistic modes of analysis to explore how various social hierarchies (gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.) intersect

within power relations. Thirdly, and most importantly, CRT also takes

into account essential tools needed for psychic survival in a racialised

landscape, ones that can help victimised individuals, as represented by

young fictional characters, to identify and define themselves as subjects, not objects—a crucial step towards mental decolonisation or what

Malcolm X (a figure, like Frantz Fanon, associated more, historically,

with harsher means or eye-for-an-eye) terms ‘psychic conversion’, as

well as individual and group empowerment. Such an identification and

definition, for which this study is arguing, will accordingly afford them

to be both black and American at the same time. This last point is

crucial as it reflects one commonality shared by both CRT and African

American C&YA literature. As it is well recognised in the field, one key

ongoing goal of African American C&YA literature, other than securing

the visibility of black children on the printed page through positive portrayals, filling the historical gaps, as well as nurturing and encouraging

racial pride and identity, is to provide a coping mechanism or a vehicle

for survival for its young readers (Bishop, 2012; Anatol, 2011; Smith,

2002). And this is another important reason why CRT is a fitting candidate for the analysis and interpretation of the current project, and why,

as a recognised body of critical enquiry, it is needed in contemporary

racialised America.

Equally important is its limited role in literary studies, particularly

in C&YA literature. Whilst CRT is not a completely new and different

approach to race, it has not before been applied, as stated earlier, to any

literary study in a book-length project. A relatively few literary enthusiasts

employing CRT as part of their literary analyses tend to put an emphasis

only on one tenet of this race theory, particularly its Intersectionality, leaving aside and untouched other tenets, such as Everyday Racism, The Social

Construction of Race, Interest Convergence, Differential Racialisation,

Voice of Colour, Counter-Storytelling, which, arguably, are crucial and

equally thought-provoking (see detailed discussions of each tenet in the

next chapter). In light of this lack of literary research, it is my intention,

therefore, to turn the gaze of this book to CRT and make great use of its

various theoretical foundations to analyse and tackle the issue of internalised racism depicted in contemporary African American C&YA literature, to see how well a theory originally developed for legal purposes can

help transform a literary landscape.



INTRODUCTION



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Each of the above tenets will be utilised to analyse  the focus C&YA

texts at different stages of the book to help explain—from literary, racial,

social and political perspectives—what lies behind the issue of internalised

racism, and what conclusion, if any, can be drawn. And through a combination of these major CRT tenets, I am convinced that it is possible

to delve deeper under the skin of this racial issue, as well as to critically

analyse its various contributing factors, including the personal, historical,

socio-political as well as the individual and collective. CRT, however, is

not the only theoretical and analytical tool used in this book. In order

to thoroughly examine the complexities of the issue of internalised racism, I am also using an array of theories, encompassing, among others,

literary studies, cultural studies, African American studies and postcolonial studies. Critical and theoretical works by key contemporary African

American C&YA scholars employed as part of the analysis include Rudine

Sims’s (1982) framework of the three categories of books, particularly her ‘social conscience’ and ‘culturally conscious’ books, Donnarae

MacCann’s (2002) examination of the antebellum and postbellum

white supremacy in children’s literature, Dianne Johnson-Feelings’s

(1990) interrelationship between African American children’s literature

and adult literature. Critical works by C&YA scholars outside the USA,

such as Clare Bradford’s (2007) postcolonial readings of children’s literature and Christine Wilkie-Stibbs’s (2008) juxtaposition of narratives

of literary and actual children/young adults, particularly her theoretical concept of the notion of ‘child-outsiderness’, among others, are also

included. The book also makes use of key theoretical concepts by scholars in the fields of African American literature, African American studies

and cultural studies, such as Toni Morrison’s (1992) Africanist presence, Patricia Hill Collins’s (2009) black feminist thought, bell hooks’s

(2013) white supremacist thinking and practice, Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s

(1988) Signifyin(g), Edward Said’s (2000) reflections on exile, and Julia

Kristeva’s (1991) foreignisation. Like the marriage of the major CRT

tenets, the amalgamation of these theoretical views clearly allows me a

wider access to the same topic from different angles, resulting, I believe,

in a thorough, multilayered and multidimensional racial analysis that is

uniquely African American, which is evidently in consonant with both

the genesis and the principle of CRT. As a theory, CRT’s strengths lie in

its close relation to other disciplines, particularly legal studies and feminism. Its key theoretical positioning, since its inception, is also influenced

and informed by European theorists such as Michel Foucault, Jacques



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Derrida and Antonio Gramsci, as well as influential historical black figures

such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B.  Du Bois, Martin

Luther King, Jr. (Delgado and Stefancic, 2012), thus naturally making

its approach to race interdisciplinary, relevant and effective. And this is

another reason it is adopted as the key theoretical frame for this booklength project. And since the book is interdisciplinary in nature, encompassing both humanities and social studies, looking at one of the pressing

social issues in contemporary America through the eye of a fictional child,

any theoretical position or conclusion this study is arriving at will certainly help enrich not only literary scholarship, particularly that representing the realm of C&YA literature, but also race scholarship.

Representative African American C&YA texts included in the discussion, particularly those depicting internalised racism as part of their central theme through their female protagonists, are Jacqueline Woodson’s

Feathers (2007) and I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This (1994), Tanita

S. Davis’s Mare’s War (2009), Sharon G. Flake’s Who Am I without Him

(2005a), Bang (2005b) and The Skin I’m In (1998), Nikki Grimes’s Bronx

Masquerade (2002), Sapphire’s (1996) Push, and Rosa Guy’s The Music of

Summer (1992), with Julius Lester’s Day of Tears (2005), Walter Mosley’s

47 (2005) and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) being

used as additional texts to illustrate an historical overview of slavery and

colour stratification in America (Day of Tears and 47) and the civil rights

movement in the 1960s (Brown Girl Dreaming) (see detailed discussions

of each text in the next chapter).

Although the focus of this book is on the female characters, it needs to

be pointed out that this particular racial issue is not strictly a black female

experience. For males, such as Fourty-seven, a protagonist in Walter

Mosley’s historical novel 47 (2005), or some of the minor characters in

the focus texts, for instance, are also caught in the same web of self-hatred.

And the experience, as this book will demonstrate, is most devastating,

particularly for the youngsters who are in the process of becoming, or, as

suggested by bell hooks (1994a), who are “striving to construct positive

identity and healthy self-esteem” (p. 211). Yet, whilst both females and

males are oppressed by their race, black men, argues Patricia Hill Collins

(2013), are “privileged by their gender” (p. 14). This, together with the

notion of childhood or youth, the point that I will raise and argue for

throughout the book in support of CRT’s Intersectionality to enrich its

theoretical stance, is part of the main reason why the focus of this book

is on the female characters, for they have come to represent lived experi-



INTRODUCTION



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ences or realities of those who are most powerless, who actually occupy

the bottom of social ladder. However, whilst gender might play a significant role, this book as a whole is attempting to offer transparency that is

not muted by this very factor.

These literary texts—shaped and informed by cultural practices of

present-day America and driven by an authoritative narrator and an authorial voice and viewpoint—as I shall discuss throughout this book, represent

a larger construct or a ‘reconstructed world’. They portray what is possible

through the author’s research, memories and recollections, together with

the act of imagination. Fundamental racial issues that these texts represent

through the life of their young characters, which clearly have an impact on

the politics of black identities, as suggested by Cai (2002) in her discussion of stereotyping and the politics of representation in C&YA literature,

are not just literary or aesthetic issues but also social and political ones.

These are texts made up of small and local narratives chronicling everyday

lives of (young) ordinary Blacks who are not part of a ‘monumental history’ or ‘grand narrative’, and, like a character from Davis’s Mare’s War

(2009), previously neglected, historically denied or narratively excluded

(Gates, 1987). Another important claim I am making in this book, therefore, is that these texts become not just ‘composite stories’ with historical

significance but also ‘counter-stories’, which, as far as storytelling goes, are

integral in creating a space for resistance and agency for both the fictional

and outside child.

My decision to include them as representative texts is not because of

the numerous awards they have amassed, although that, to a great extent,

helps confirm their literary merits, but mainly because they are texts

that courageously and compellingly, through the eye of a fictional child,

tackle fundamental racial issues affecting the politics of black identities

in America today. These are literary texts that address, as suggested by

Tessa Hadley (2014), “The intricate workings of institutionalised power”,

as well as help reconstruct, as I shall argue throughout this book, a different social reality (Delgado and Stefancic, 2013), based on an African

American experience, one that can help establish a more balanced and

fairer social discourse on race. Also, the fact that these C&YA texts span

almost nine decades of American history and capture racial issues that have

been silenced during various historical periods, including internalised racism, makes them worthy of a thorough investigation and, therefore, are

ideal for this study.



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In her most recent publication, Just Us Girls: The Contemporary African

American Young Adult Novel (2008), a close reading textual study of

contemporary African American young adult novels, Wendy Rountree

states that her book is an answer to an academic call proposed by Dianne

Johnson-Feelings (1990), encouraging more scholars to study the relationship between African American children’s literature and adult literature. As a scholar of both African American children’s and adult literature,

Rountree has observed that, regardless of their readers, African American

authors tend to portray similar themes, such as racism, acculturation, child

abuse, sexual orientation and, particularly, coming-of-age and identity as

also reflected in the focus texts chosen for this book. This thematic crossover also coincides with Katharine Capshaw Smith’s (2002) discussion of

the landscape of ethnic American children’s literature. Smith argues that

such similarities are not only common but also crucial in helping C&YA

texts “recoup lost heroes, fill the gaps of historical memory, subvert ethnic

stereotypes, and advance revisionary versions of cultural identity” (Smith,

2002, p. 6), which, in turn, as suggested by Bishop (2012), help Black

children who have been historically wronged or othered to feel valued and

validated in their own social context. These similarities, argues Giselle Liza

Anatol (2011), also reflect general cultural and political needs regarding

the emergence of both C&YA and adult literature, which are to address

(1) “the striking absence or the persistent stereotypes of people of African

descent in mainstream literature” and (2) “the longstanding ‘ghettoized’

experience of the body of work itself within and without the larger field of

canonical literature” (Anatol, 2011, p. 621). And these are my main reasons that, all through this book, representative C&YA texts are set against

key examples of adult works, particularly Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

(2004), Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1999) and her 1997’s Paradise.

The purpose of my inclusion of these adult texts, first and foremost, is

not to downplay the role of C&YA literature nor to make a comparative

analysis but to use them as catalysts or pointers for discussion. Secondly,

based on critical works by African American literary scholars discussed

above, the great body of African American literature is made up of both

C&YA and adult literature, therefore it is my firm belief that it should be

treated as part of the whole, not as a distinctly separate body. For by so

doing, not only will it help solidify the body of works but also strengthen

certain African American literary theories, such as Morrison’s (1992)

Africanist Presence and Gates’s (1988) Signifyin(g). As a theoretical frame

to approach African American literature, Morrison and Gates have gained



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their strengths through their applications on adult texts. Extending their

analyses to literary texts written for children and young adults, as this book

will prove, would yield a more complete picture of African American literature, and in turn, strengthening their theoretical foundations.

In her seminal work Shadow and Substance: Afro-American Experience

in Contemporary Children’s Fiction (1982), Rudine Sims, through her

close reading and analysis of 150 children’s books published between

1965 and 1970, dedicates one chapter to the five African American C&YA

authors whom she refers to as ‘Image Makers’, which are Lucille Clifton,

Eloise Greenfield, Virginia Hamilton, Sharon Bell Mathis and Walter

Dean Myers. Their ‘culturally conscious’ books reflecting the ‘distinctiveness of African American experiences’, Bishop states, have made them “the

frontrunners in the creation of late Twentieth-century African American

children’s literature” (Bishop, 2012, p. 8). In her more recent scholarship,

Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s

Literature (2007), Bishop praises a new batch of writers such as Jacqueline

Woodson, Angela Johnson, Rita Williams-Garcia, Sharon Flake, Sharon

Draper, for their courageous voices and innovations. Like all the authors

included in this book, I believe these are the new ‘image makers’ of the

twenty-first-century African American C&YA literature, whose depictions

of black lives and identity have certainly helped create—for both the fictional and outside child—a space for resistance and agency.

To obtain a complete picture of its detriment, as portrayed in the focus

C&YA texts, and based on three main research questions discussed above,

the book explores internalised racism and its manifestations in three main

areas, starting from psychological manifestation, looking at how young

fictional characters are psychologically wounded by internalised racism and

how the wound gets (mis)directed towards the self and others. It focuses

next on linguistic manifestation, discussing how being made to adhere to

the dominant linguistic code can destroy fictional characters linguistically

and psychologically. The book then moves on to the sense of displacement and dislocation as experienced by the young characters, exploring

the direct aftermath of postcivil rights desegregated America and its contemporary influence, as well as outlining the new set of challenges and

problems facing American blacks, particularly the young and vulnerable.

And finally, it discusses narrative strategies utilised by the authors to help

the characters regain and reclaim their sense of self. Specifically, this book

is structured through the following main chapter headings:



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1.2



CHAPTER 2: CRT AND INTERNALISED RACISM



As a theoretical and analytical tool, CRT is certainly a terrain unfamiliar

and foreign to the field of literary studies. This chapter is thus set up with

an aim to help the reader grasp its basic tenets and realise its potentiality in

literary analyses. The chapter also discusses relevant literature surrounding

the issue of internalised racism, including intra-racial racism; provides a

brief historical overview of skin colour stratification in America, particularly through Donnarae MacCann’s (2002) critical study of white supremacy in children’s literature and two historical C&YA novels, Julius Lester’s

Day of Tears (2005) and Walter Mosley’s 47 (2005); and introduces the

primary C&YA texts that will be used in the book.



1.3



CHAPTER 3: WOUNDED



Through the theoretical lens of CRT and its following four tenets—The

Social Construction of Race, Differential Racialisation, Everyday Racism

and Intersectionality, this chapter is aimed at exploring how young fictional characters are psychologically wounded by internalised racism, how

the wound gets inflicted upon the self and others within the black community. My argument regarding the literary characters’ psychological wounds

is primarily premised on or attributed to the detriment of controlling

images still ravaging American landscape today. The chapter also takes into

account the issue of intra-racial racism, also known as colourism or colour

caste system, referring to racial discrimination within the black community

against those with darker skin and more African features. These will be

read and analysed against the following fictional texts written for children

and young adults: Sharon G. Flake’s Who Am I without Him (2005a) and

her 1998’s The Skin I’m In, Nikki Grime’s Bronx Masquerade (2002),

Sapphire’s Push (1996) and Rosa Guy’s The Music of Summer (1992).



1.4



CHAPTER 4: TONGUE-TIED



The focus of this chapter is on the linguistic manifestation of internalised

racism/intra-racial racism portrayed in the focus texts. Utilising CRT’s

Social Construction of Race, Differential Racialisation and Everyday

Racism tenets as my theoretical frame, this chapter turns its gaze to the linguistic aspect of internalised racism, looking at how being made to adhere



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