By Adesina Idris (Max), BSc. Political Science
The Tuesday, November 8, 2016 presidential election marks the 58th presidential election in United States of America. The quadrennial polls were contested between the two dominant political parties in the state. The Democratic was represented by former Senator and former Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, while the Republican candidate was a financier, Donald Trump who eventually emerged as the winner of the polls.
The United States electoral system is an indirect type. In this form of elections, the United State citizens as a whole elect their presidential electors who have pledges for their respective candidates through an electoral college. As a result, the Democratic party won a popular vote of 60,981,188 with projected electoral vote of 232 while the Republican party of Trump polled a popular vote of 60,350,241 with projected electoral vote of 290. The US electoral law provides that a candidate is declared the winner if she/he obtains 270 electoral votes of a majority of the 538 electors in the Electoral College. With this results, Trump will take office at the 45th president of United States on January 20, 2017 alongside Mike Pence as the 48th Vice President.
However, the surprising results of the polls have created a lot of disquiet concerns among political analysts, electoral commentators as well as attention of poetical judges. One of those whose literary works have groped the ballot process and its outcome is Adeyemi Agarau. He has written some poems which serve as an analytical tool to understand the elections, its process, reactions and likely consequences of the Americans’ November 8 decision. A careful study of these poems will reveal that they expose an interplay of antithetical classes in the society.
Election by its very nature is always a conflict of interests. It is a clash of interests represented by political parties, party manifestos and candidates. Whether this conflict is sane and progressive, inceptive and prejudicial or based on some mischievous factors depend on the electoral process and most importantly the electoral environment. Thus, this critique will adopt Conflict Theory for an even-handed analysis.
The Conflict Theory is one of the leading theories that seek to explain the type and manner of relationship that exists between or amongst divergent groups in the society. Extensively, it holds that these groups (or individuals) interrelate base on conflict rather than consociation as a result of an enduring competitions over scarce socio-economic and political resources. Significantly, individuals or groups with more power have the tendency to use their power to exploit less powerful class(es). This is the perfect hand tool to the background of Agarau’s poems.
Interestingly, Agarau is known to be skilled with sensual diction. However, the beauty of his works lies not in their hedonic contents but their contextual expositions. He uses sexism to concoct vehement imagery to achieve optimal climax in his readers. His poetic excursion into the election started with ‘A Short Letter to America’. The introductory part of the poem tells us of “demons love” who “walk Florida”. These “demons love to enter the body of a whore”. The poet achieves a connotational effect by using Florida to represent ‘a whore’ whose promiscuousness draws the deceitful love of demons. These lines are apparently not unconnected with the status of the state of Florida as a swing state. A swing state is a state which is not identified to a particular party at every election but always float with the wave of party ideologies and policies.
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In the same vein, demons are figuratively used to symbolise a set of people who have a negative intent towards the larger community. Apparently, the poet attests to the Conflict Theory here. The ‘demons’ are the major group that penetrate the weaker class through Florida “from the back, lap her nipples and tie her to the bed”. “they say her skin is a country at the edge of falling”. The demons exploit her debauchery as an avenue through which “they will uncover the memories of (their) dark longings”. The poet further prophecises the evil plot of this demon class that “they will compile their dark desires and make this city a mess”. In the concluding lines of the poem, the poet narrates the consequences of the demons’ passage to Florida when he says that “this slut will bear their child” who will continue the devilish heritage of his fathers–“…this child will trump/this country”.
A clearer picture of the weak exploited group is provided in ‘Breathing in a City that is not yours’. The opening lines of the poem introduces to us a “boy (who) once burnt in a fire”. The poet-speaker describes its flames at consisting of “splitters, broken bottles/liquid of hate and dismay”. The boy has to shoulder the above predicaments, perhaps, because he “was black, darker than the colour of ash”. The poet takes our minds back to the tenets of Conflict Theory when he reminds us that “this boy is in between the laps of an orange demon”. The orange demon is the child born by the “slut/Florida” to the demons as we are told in the first poem above. As the poet’s prophecy had already told us, the birth consequence of this child is that “his tongue is a war tearing the media”.
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The succeeding stanza tells us of the lamentations of this black boy. The boy rhetorically remarks of how he will summon courage to “bid goodbye to living” because life in his environment itself “walks out on you like the shadows of your father”. In the same stanza, the poet deploys his skill of sexism by using some carefully selected words to describe the sweet and emotional memories this black boy will have to leave behind him when he leaves his environment. This is shown when the boy asks himself again: “how do you chase the butts of demons/ when the night wear skimpy things /and opens for you vagina dripping with memories?”
The rhetorical remarks of the exploited black boy continue from line 15 by asking his audience again of how is it possible for him to live with joy in an environment where “women are gnashing/ their teeth and old men are learning to crawl into the eyes of troubled souls?” It is rather unfortunate that women whose smiles are supposed to be symbol of joy are now seen grinding their teeth in anger and much worse to see old men now having to learn of how to walk like a toddler. This imagery tells the reader of the problems of a black boy in a society dominated by exploitative “demons”.
On a similar note, through this boy, the poet reveals to us his uttermost concern when he draws from the poem’s title to achieve a rhetorical technique by asking again how to “breathe in a city/ where white bitches are dreamers/ and black men who carve the night with their teeth/ are negroes chased into paths of exile”? The poet exposes the downturn of events where “bitches” have become “dreamers” and the black people who have worked all their lives in this country contributing to its growth and development are tagged “negroes” to be exiled. These lines are linked with the raging threat by the US president-elect to deport some specific sets of people from the county, especially the black immigrants. The poet therefore concludes in the last stanza that the “hypocrisy” of the dominant group (Whites) does not only bring shame to the country in question but it is “the shame of the world”. Hence, the speaker urges: “america, breathe in your doom”.
It is worthy to note that the Conflict Theory holds the view that the inherent conflict in the society serves as an agent of change. The theory adopts the dialectical principle of Marxism to explain that constant conflict in the society usually confutational confrontations that subsequently lead to change in the social configuration. The new social order, however, depends on the elements of the change. To understand the fruits of the America’ just concluded elections, Agarau’s ‘Fucked (for a country begging for doom)’ gives an insight into this.
The poem opens with a narrative flashback of how a promiscuous “white lady” (USA) is sexually exploited by a “demon born”. Its last stanza discusses the impacts of the election on the society. It says that “this man trumped her” (the whore). This connotation is artistically used to represent how the said “demon” (the man) abuses his subject. While the poet satirizes with the word “trump” to emphasize the role played by the President-elect, whose name has been synonymous with all kinds of antisocial behaviors, including sexual exploitation and objectification of women; sexism plays a very crucial role in the poem to foreground the social reaction of a group of people whose hope has been burnt at the stake to fight back. The reference to “this man” contrasts sharply with “white lady”, thus signaling the presence of racial conflict and a shift of power dynamics as the black man sees objectifying his victim as a way of tilting power balance.
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The poet goes further that “she wanted a war/and we hope she survives/the momentum of his bad fuck”. Apparently, ‘USA’ is a war already with itself, and it now becomes a question whether or not she will be able to survive the negative impacts of the war. Comparatively, a section of the United States is currently in conflict (war) with the outcome of the election. There have been protests by the dominated group whose sentiments have been exploited by their major counterparts, whether or not she will survive her test of discrimination, exploitation and oppression by the dominant “demons” remains a national question.
Conclusively, the application of sexism by the poet has given a strong description of the luring technique adopted by a dominant group to exploit a weaker minority which is the basis of the Conflict Theory. This technique brightens our understanding about the principal axioms of the theory by shedding light on the powerful-weak classes into which the United States is divided and the form of relationship that exists between them. The poet’s careful selection of symbolic allusions has also made us understand the politics behind the US elections–especially its racist outlook–and the cloud of doom that is likely to rain on the black minority as well as the social reactions by those who have seen the awaiting doom in the hands of a “fucking orange demon!”
Adesina Idris is a Poet, Literary Critic and Political Scientist.
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