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Racial Ideology and Linguistic Decolonization: A Study on Kamala Das’s “An Introduction”


Susmita Roy

Department of English

Shahjalal University of Science and Technology

Sylhet, Bangladesh


Racial ideology means pervasive belief about race which is used in segregating the people of other races as the “other.” Language, in this “othering” process, is used as a weapon to segregate and to colonize the “oriental others.” In the Colonial era, the colonizers demeaned the languages used by the natives as “indigenous and uncivilized” and imposed the use of colonial hegemonic language on them as we can see in Denial Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. This imposed colonial hegemonic language, in this postcolonial period, is used to deform the standard language by abrogating it and to make the language carry the experiences of their colonial past by reforming it in a new hybrid form. But, this use of deformed colonial language by the colonized in postcolonial texts is often criticized and laughed at by the western critics and even by some postcolonial native critics who consider using colonial as perpetual linguistic slavery of the natives. This work is an attempt to reflect Kamala Das’s stance on the use of colonial language in postcolonial texts and the bold answer she gives to those criticisms in her poem “An Introduction.” This study at its conclusion shows that unlike to Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Kamala Das like Chinua Achebe finds using colonial language in postcolonial texts as useful “as cawing is to crows or roaring to the lions” because it conveys her “honest expression” from her decolonized “aware” mind.


Keywords: Linguistic Colonization, Decolonization, Racial Ideology, Postcolonial, Language, Debate




Kamala Das’s poem “An Introduction” is often studied as a confessional feministic poem. But, along with Das’s feministic stance on patriarchal society, this poem also represents her postcolonial stance on the language debate of postcolonial writing. This article primarily focuses on the postcolonial reading of this poem. This article also discusses in its distinctive sub-headings the role of language in the colonization and decolonization process, racial ideology of language, and the prevalent postcolonial debate upon linguistic decolonization in postcolonial writings to understand and analyze Das’s stance on postcolonial language debate better.


Language as a tool of colonization and decolonization


           Language, in the colonization process, was a tool to fasten colonization by branding the native’s language as “substandard and barbarous” and imposing the colonizers’ language upon the colonized. On the contrary, language, in the decolonization process, is a tool to counter colonization by deforming the colonizers’ language and making it carry the natives’ experiences. This process of linguistic colonization and decolonization is well reflected in Aime Cesaire’s A Tempest where to Prospero language is a weapon of property to power and to Caliban language is a weapon of protest against power. The role of language in colonization and decolonization hence can be described as below-


     Language as a means of Property à power ß Language as a means of Protest

                                to the (Colonizers)                                                   to the (decolonized)


The way language is used in the colonization process to exercise power is challenged by the way language is used in the decolonization process to destroy the colonial power. In the decolonization process, the resistance to linguistic slavery is undertaken either by using native language or by using abrogated colonial language in postcolonial texts. For the former attempt, the native language is preferred in postcolonial texts as a revolt against colonialism because to them language carry cultural experience as reflected in Ngugi remarks in his Decolonizing the Mind-

…Written literature and orature are the main means by which a particular language transmits the images of the world contained in the culture it carries… Language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world … Language is thus inseparable from ourselves as a community of human beings with a specific form and character, a specific history, a specific relationship to the world. (15-16)


For Ngugi, the native language is an imperative medium to convey traditional and cultural experiences. On contrary to this, for the latter attempt, colonial language is preferred in postcolonial text, but in an abrogated hybrid form, as a revolt against colonialism because to them colonial language convey odd colonial experiences to the colonizers and its abrogation and deformation can be a form of protest to linguistic slavery as reflected in Chinua Achebe’s remarks in his essay “The English Language and the African writer” –


…He (the African writer) should at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience. (21)


Achebe’s stance is for an adopted hybrid English in a new African setting which will convey his odd colonial experience to the international language the way he does through his novel. Achebe’s stance is justified through his hybrid African English as we find Igbo words such as “chi” in his novels written in English. Thus, unlike to Ngugi and Ceisaire, Achebe goes for using English in postcolonial texts. Therefore, concerning postcolonial writings, there remains a debate on which language to use in postcolonial texts. The next section will show how racial ideology works in linguistic criticism of a postcolonial text by western parameters of literary aesthetics.


Racial ideology and linguistic criticism in the postcolonial era

           In the age of globalization, the Hegemonic colonial language (English) is a recognized medium for international communication but racial ideology, in this communication, creates segregation between English used by the occidental people and English used by the oriental people. Oriental English, to the Europeans, is not Standard English and has “indigenousness” in it. Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields’ in their book  Racecraft- The Soul of Inequality in American Life claim that the Europeans use language as a tool to differentiate the Afro-Americans as “others” and to create inequality in schooling. Segregation by race, to Fieldses, is not the result of “hallucination or delusion or even simple hypocrisy; rather, it is ideology.”(Fieldses 118-19) This ideology, silently giving birth to racism, is hereditarily transformed from generation to generation and is found in segregation between the colonizer’ English and the colonized peoples’ English and leads to criticizing the postcolonial writings in English as “substandard”. The next section shows in what ways postcolonial writings face criticism from western critics.


Criticism of postcolonial texts written in English by the colonizers


           Postcolonial texts in English, as mentioned earlier in this paper, are subject to criticism from the colonizers because they claim English as their language. This claim differentiates colonized peoples’ English as “others English” which, according to them, is sub-standard having indigenousness. This indigenousness, as the western critics claim, reduces the value of postcolonial texts. Along with that, postcolonial texts, written in English, are presumed to be assessed in terms of European traditional aesthetic standard as it is written in “their” language.


This universal application of European aesthetic standard is brought into question in Chinua Achebe’s essay “Where Angels Fear to Tread” where he identifies this type of tendency as mere “increasing dogmatism” and being self-evident.”(Achebe 63) Achebe in this same essay also describes three different types of European critics of African writers where he finds the best of these three types as “cocksureness” in their aesthetic value which is annoying. J. P. Clark in his essay "Our Literary Critics" also claims that European criticism of African literature is an attempt to impede African postcolonial writings. These claims clarify the fact that postcolonial texts written in English by non-Europeans face bitter criticism by the Europeans as they claim English as their language.


Criticism of postcolonial texts written in English by the colonized


           Along with the criticism of European critics, postcolonial non-European English texts are also criticized by some postcolonial critics and writers because they think English can never be a language of protest. They, rather, prefer the native language to reflect counter colonialism in their writings. The use of English in postcolonial texts, to Ngugi Wa Thiongo, erases pre-colonial past and accepts new forms of colonial domination. A postcolonial writer like Aime Cesaire also goes for writing in “Sohili language” rather than writing in English. Postcolonial critic and researcher Ihechukwu Madubuike in his article “Achebe’s Ideas on Literature” claims that the choice of colonial language to write is “a regrettable one” and this choice “implies perpetuation of linguistic slavery” of the writers. (Madubuike 68)These remarks and views by various postcolonial thinkers, critics, and writers indicate the issue of criticism that a postcolonial text written in English invites from the postcolonial critics themselves.

Kamala Das reflection on the debate on language of postcolonial texts in “An Introduction”


           From the earlier sections of this article, we find a debate, among the postcolonial writers and thinkers, on the language selection of postcolonial texts. This concluding section of the article will discuss the reflection of Kamala Das’s stance on this language debate in her poem “An Introduction.” In this poem, Das challenges those prevalent criticisms of postcolonial texts written in English. To her, colonial language is no longer the property of the colonizers rather it is now universal for which the colonization process is responsible. As Kishalaya Podder in his article “Kamala Das’s Identity of Language in “An Introduction”: A Study on Homi K. Bhabha’s Concept” pointing out Homi K Bhabha’s concept of mimicry, notes that linguistic colonization is a trap for the colonizers too because it allows the natives to face the colonizers. As it contends-

“Here the fact is that when a native man knowingly or unknowingly follows his masters he disobeys the power system that proves the hollowness of those masters. So it’s an elusive weapon of decolonization that is not apparent in common eyes. The colonizers don’t understand that it’s a trap for them also in which the natives are allowed to be face to face to their foreign masters. It provides an ironic compromise where the ‘otherness’ of colonized is decreased, rather their indigenous originality is flourished.”(Podder 903)


           Podder referring to Homi K Bhabha’s concept of mimicry shows how language itself becomes an elusive weapon of the decolonization process in which the colonial language no longer belongs to the colonizers only but to the colonized also. Whoever speaks in this language owns it even in its distorted form. In the words of Kamala Das-


                                   The language I speak, 

                                    Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses 

                                   All mine, mine alone.” (Das, lones 11-13)


           From these lines, we can retrieve Kamala Das’s stance on the debate on the language of postcolonial writings. To her, it is not necessary to write in the mother tongue to be a decolonized writer rather using colonial language can be a tool to distort the colonial past. Therefore, she begins her poem by giving her identity as a decolonized Indian and claims that the distorted “half English, half Indian” language is her honest expression. To quote her-


                                    I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,

                                    I speak three languages, write in

                                    Two, dream in one…” (Das, lines 4-6)


           Kamala also bitterly criticizes the critics and the society members who impede her to use English to express her honest feeling just because it is not her mother tongue. She strengthens her points of opposition towards them by showing how the language she uses becomes her by expressing her joys, her longings, her hopes. As she writes-


Why not let me speak in

Any language I like? The language I speak,

Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses

All mine, mine alone.

It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,

It is as human as I am human, don't

You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my hopes  (Das, lines 10-16)


           Along with showing the reason for her use of the English language, Kamala Das in her poem also shows why English is useful as a literary medium of postcolonial writings. In her view, this language is useful as cawing to crows or as roaring to lions because this language gives her the strength and opportunity to roar back, to convey her message to the colonizers, and the words she utters in this language come from her aware heart. In her words-


                                    It is useful to me as cawing

                                    Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it

 Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is

                                    Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and

                                    Is aware. (Das, lines 17-21)


           In these lines, the use of words such as “roar”, “aware” indicates Kamala Das’s decolonized stance in using colonial language. Because every single word of this language she utters or writes comes from a mind that is “here” (postcolonial India) not there (Colonial India). Her mind is well aware which can see and hear and which can fight back. To fight back as a decolonized person Kamala finds English as a useful medium. Thus, Das’s poem “An Introduction” reflects her stance on the debate of language in postcolonial writings.




           Language, in both the colonization and decolonization process, is an important weapon to gain interest. After decolonization, there is a call for decolonizing linguistic slavery too. In this call, Postcolonial critics and thinkers are divided into two groups where some are on the behalf of using colonial language and some are in the opposition to using colonial language in postcolonial writings. This paper brings out the very essence of Kamala Das’s stance on this debate as reflected in her poem “An Introduction.” This article shows how this poem apart from being the representation of Kamala Das’s feminist stance, is also a representation of her stance as being a postcolonial writer.


Works Cited


Achebe, Chinua. Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press,


Césaire, Aimé. A Tempest: Based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, Adaptation for a Black

Theatre. New York :TCG Translations, 2002.

Das, Kamala. “An Introduction.” Only the Soul Knows How to Sing: Selections from

Kamala Das. Kottayam: DC Books, 1999.

Fields, Karen E., and Barbara J. Fields. Racecraft: the Soul of Inequality in American Life.

Verso Book, 2016.

Clark, J.P."Our Literary Critics." Nigeria magazine, September 1962, pp. 78-82.

Madubuike, Ihechukwu. “Chinua Achebe : His Ideas on African Literature.” Présence

Africaine, no. 93, 1975, pp. 140–152. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/24349663. Accessed 17 Aug. 2020.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African

Literature.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1981.15-16.

Podder, Kishalaya. “Kamala Das’s Identity of Language in “An Introduction”: A Study on

Homi K. Bhabha’s Concept.” IJRAR- International Journal of Research and Analytical Reviews, vol. 5, no. 2, 2018, pp. 902-904.