Several literary writers have portrayed the lives and experiences of minority groups in America. These minorities experienced difficulties in integrating with the dominant white societies of America. Majority suffered cultural identity crisis, racism, segregation, and all manner of discrimination.
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This essay compares and contrasts Amy Tan’s short story, Fish Cheeks and Brent Staple’s short story, Black Men and Public Spaces. The paper shall focus on central ideas and language use of the two authors. Both stories show that there is no place for minorities in racist America societies. In fact, the minorities suffer from identity crisis as a result of oppression and racism. They have no means to embrace their cultural identity and consequently integrate them in the white dominated American society.
Amy and Brent are writing from the perspectives of minorities’ experiences in culturally oriented America societies. The two writers portray situations of racism and how characters react to them. Brent presents a narrator who thinks that the whites are stereotyping him due to his skin color.
The narrator allows himself to be easily annoyed by these situations. He fails to see similar experiences among other races. Amy Tan expresses shame of not being a white in America. She is ashamed of her family behavior. She wishes that her family were American so that they can fit into society. Amy demonstrates fears associated with not being white in America. While the Brent’s narrator is ashamed of his skin color, Amy is ashamed of her family behavior before civilized whites (Kennedy, et al. 99).
Racism has been a matter of concern in America for a long time. Brent clearly captures the issue of racial segregation between blacks and whites in America. The black narrator is not comfortable in public spaces because of fear he invokes in others due to his skin color. The narrator speaks of giving others their way in the subway to stop them from worrying about his “skin color” (Kennedy, et al. 80).
When the narrator runs into the office where he work and people think of him as a burglar, he attributes this to his skin color. Further, a young woman describes the narrator as “the youngish Blackman” (Kennedy, et al. 89). The narrator thinks that the woman took off because of the fear he invokes in people due to his skin color. The woman also portrays the narrator as dangerous because of his size and color at night. Amy story demonstrates a teenage girl’s experiences in a racist society.
Other races consider whites to be superior to them. These thought drive Amy to wish that her family would be like Americans so that they can easily fit in society. Amy’s short story fails to capture issues of racism in America rather she highlights negative effects of living in a culturally oriented and racist society. Racism caused fear, embarrassment and cultural identity crisis among the youths of America society. They can neither fit in their parents’ culture nor can they embrace the whites’ culture.
Amy and Brent present characters who are their own worst enemies when it comes to relating with other races. The narrator is not able to look past his skin color and make sound judgments of situations. However, this can be attributed to the environment he lives in society. Amy, on the other hand, fails to embrace her culture and subsequently suffers from cultural identity crisis.
Amy shows cultural identity crisis among American youths of immigrant origins. For young people who are different from the whites, the quest for a cultural identity is a tedious task. Amy portrays a teenage girl ashamed of her own Chinese heritage. Amy as a teenager shows that none of her whishes was from her Chinese cultural heritages. In fact, she is so obsessed with whites’ culture to the extent of referring to her Chinese Christmas dinner as “shabby” (Kennedy, et al. 99).
This shows that Amy is not proud of her own culture, and would be happy to drop it. Amy talks of Chinese food with embarrassment and distaste. Amy’s family table manners embarrassed her especially when her father “burps” (Kennedy, et al. 100). The narrator’s embarrassments and pains to conceal her family behavior cannot escape readers’ attention. Though, Amy changes her attitude towards her cultural heritage later, the dissatisfaction she experienced during that evening was totally due her culture background.
Brent fails to illustrate issues of cultural identity crisis among the young black Americans. Brent shows negative effects of racism in America. At the same time, he also shows reactions of young blacks to such situations. The author uses a submissive narrator who often gave in so that he would not invoke fear in other people. Amy and Brent show difficulties associated with living in culturally and stereotyping society of America. Every character reacts differently depending on the situations.
Brent and Amy talk of fear among their characters. For Brent, fear due to skin color becomes the central theme of the story. Everyone fears everyone else. The society conditions the blacks to fear their white counterparts. Consequentially, whites also fear blacks. Whites see blacks as highly dangerous and potentially harmful people.
The minorities fear dominant whites. Women fear men. Fear is also evident at workplace. The whole society creates a condition of fear for everyone and everywhere. Brent’s narrator escapes through whistling classical music so as to stop evoking fear in others. This sense of fear among characters results from racism, oppression and persecution of blacks by their white counterparts before emancipation.
Ideally, Brent portrays a society infiltrated by fear. On the other hand, Amy uses fear to show dominance of white cultural heritage in America. The minorities fear what their white counterparts will think of their culture as unsophisticated. Characters’ ethnocentric views prevent them from seeing beyond their immediate environment. Brent presents a character who cannot see beyond his skin color, and Amy portrays a teenage girl who cannot see anything noble in her heritage.
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The writer tries to demonstrate that people should overcome fear and embarrassments about their cultural heritages, but instead embrace it. Amy’s mother says that it is “shameful to have shame” in order to encourage Amy to embrace her culture (Kennedy, et al. 100). In other words, one should be proud of his or her identity and cultural backgrounds. Both authors show that these characters are their own worst enemies.
Brent and Amy use language artistically to pass their messages to the readers. Amy uses a tone of a young mortified girl to show cultural identity crisis among American youths of her time. Narrating the story from first person point of view gives the reader a chance to experience the story as firsthand information.
This style gives Amy’s work credibility. Brent, on the other hand, describes his narrator as a “softy” to show negative effects of racism among black Americans. Amy also uses description to highlight cultural aspects of Chinese, which make her disgusted of her own heritage (Kennedy, et al. 88).
Brent and Amy talk of whites’ dominance in America and portraying almost different experiences of minorities as a result of racism. It is the racism which prevented cultural integration of the whites and the immigrants. Therefore, it enhanced blacks’ experience of fear due to oppression and persecution associated with it. These authors use short stories to convey messages of American history to the present and future generations.
Kennedy, Dorothy, and Jane Aaron. The Bedford Reader, Tenth Edition. Bedfordshire: Bedford and St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.