The discussion on racism and its enduring growth are leading concerns to scholars in the social sciences and humanities as well as concerned individuals, groups and cooperate bodies across the world. Racism by its very nature is a major topic among contending issues that confront the peace, unity and order of the global system. According to the sociology expert, Nicki Cole, racism refers to a variety of practices, beliefs, social relations, and phenomena that work to reproduce a racial hierarchy and social structure that yield superiority, power, and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others. Racism as a concept is stemmed from the term “race”. Race has both psychological and social connotations. Race as a word, can be simply explained as a group of people that share identical characteristics and heritage that differentiate them from others.
While there are several steps taken by world leaders to eradicate racism form the world, there still exists greater elements of racial intolerance among the citizens of the universe. In response to this, sociologists have given more attention to the process of racism growth, the people involved as well as some organisations that perpetrate racial discrimination in the world community. In the same vein, the menace of racism has also received condemnation and wide exposure from contemporary literary observers. Among these literary works is the poem, ‘Fresh Gods’ written by the published poet, Adeyemi Agarau. This poem has greatly reduced the task of sociologists in explaining the theory of Systematic racism.
A perfect conceptual analysis of racism must enjoy the utility of the systematic approach. This theory, as propounded by sociologist Joe Feagin, supports the researched argument that the United States has a racial foundation and outlook, thus adds that racism is present in all social institutions, their structures and social relations in every society. Feagin explains that “systemic racism includes the complex array of antiblack practices, the unjustly gained political-economic power of whites, the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power.” This is, no doubt, the basis of ‘fresh gods’ as written by Agarau.
To begin with, the poet announces his discomfort over the racial experience he is about to share with his readers. He terms it a “song… waiting to split like Biafra and/Nigeria” (line 1-3). The poet makes a comparative allusion to the independence agitation by the Igbo people living in Nigeria. He further adds that this “song…is for (the) boys falling into our prayers” (line 3-4).
In the following stanza, the poet makes us aware that his song is two-folded. “One song is a dirge” (line 6). Here this dirge is sung by the poet to mourn the “other black/boys” (line 7-8) whose lives are ended “by the pull of triggers” (line 10) from the bullets of the racial white majority class. These set of people are young “boys” and not expected to die at this age, after all “gods do not die” but they meet their untimely death “when bullets rip our fleshes” (line 8).
As a member of the black minority people, the poet-speaker and his black people are made to “read the crimsoned-names (blood)” (line 9) of the blacks and can only “burn our eyes (cry) to bury their names” (line 13).
On the other hand, the second song by the poet is that “of revolution” ( line 13). Here the poet-speaker reveals the unfortunate experiences of certain black people and their fight to change their fates in the hands of the dominant racists. To the poet, the song is a “chant/for Sanders, Castillo, Alton/and #blacklivesmatter” (line 13-15). These are individuals who have suffered both the affliction and contentment of racism. Alton, 37, was a black man shot by two police(white) officers on July 5, 2016. Two days later, Philando Castillo was also shot by another white Jeroinimo. Bernie Sanders is a racial justice activist. He is a leading figure in the “revolution” (as posited by the poet) against racism.
The “#blacklivesmatter” on the other hand is a black civil rights movement that awakens call on the events and violence of racism. It rose when Rodney King was beaten by police on a Los Angeles street in 1991, and when Abner Louima was brutalized by NYPD officers in 1997. It rose again two years later, when the unarmed Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times by NYPD. Then again in 2004, when, following the great flood, the majority-black city of New Orleans was left to fend for itself as police, the National Guard, and vigilantes murdered citizens at will (Cole, 2016). However, this revolutionary war and the black race movement against racism has gone nowhere. In fact, “ashes (of black people) are burning again” (line 16). One can simply say that “nowhere is safe to be anything black” (line 18).
The above is apposite to the theory of systemic racism. According to Feagin, every part of the U.S society–the economy, politics, education, religion, the family–reflects the fundamental reality of systemic racism. Racism is experienced within the political realm, job creation and its opportunity, contention for socio-economic and political occupation. It is worst manifested in the police brutality of blacks as exemplified in the above allusions.
In the last stanza, the poet-speaker reluctantly expresses his final phase of racial experience. The stanza spans how news of racial killings are covered, and their persistent subjectivity to racial maltreatment. They “somehow…plant the bodies of these fresh gods/on newsstands and national papers” (line 18-19). This is usually the fate of murdered black people. Reports of their deaths only appear in “national papers” and discussions among roadside news readers–they never go beyond these. This is not unconnected to the systemic racism theory. As the theory posits, racism occurs in every section of the society including governmental institutions. The judicial system root its foundation from racial ideology, hence impossible for it to do a value-free justice to racism.
Additionally, the speaker continues to expose thier fates in the light of racism. They are too weak to change thier lots rather they can only “say to (the left) young boys..not to raise your (their) hands” (line 21-22) in protest against thier racial counterparts ride it would lead to more death because nothing would be done to rectify this after all. Disheartened, the speaker can only advise his fellow discriminated class to “just sink into a prayer” ( line 17) as a last resort when they see another “white man in a funeral dress, aiming at you for shooting practice” (live 24-26). The above lines reveal the African culture of leaving every predicament they are confronted with to God without taking any action to change them, thus, they “just sink into a prayer”. Moreover, the funeral dress as used by the poet is a symbolical imagery of a police officer in his uniform. This uniform is tagged a funeral dress because they (police) hide under the umbrella of police protection to perpetrate their unjust killings of the blacks.
Conclusively, the ‘fresh gods’ has helped add to our knowledge of the theory of systemic racism. It has taught that racism exists among individuals, institutions and thier structures as well as cooperate bodies. However it has even done more by revealing to us the unfortunate experiences of the black race in a racist environment and the African culture of religious suppression. It has also used the American society as a laboratory rat to expose racism in every white dominated state. Comparatively, the just concluded United States elections is a not-far-fetched instance of racial politics where the white majority adopted systemic racism in choosing an assumed chauvinist as a political leader. With regards to the systemic racism theory, racism exists today and will tomorrow.
Feagin, J. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, & Future Reparations.
Nicki, C. (2016). The Black Civil Rights Movement is Back. Available at http:/sociology.about.com
Adesina Idris is a Poet, Literary Critic and Political Scientist