Racism in the Shifting Heart and the Kite Runner

1 January 2017

Racism is the discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards members of another race. As Australians we have witnessed firsthand the devastation that comes along with racism and degradation of people, that being the oppression of the Aboriginal people in our society and to a lesser extent, that of the Italian and Asian migrants after World War 2.

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Our history is riddled with numerous accounts of racist behaviour and our literature reflects as much, racism is evident not only in our history but in our present time, the message portrayed through both present and past literature is that racism is not something that needs to happen and is therefore unnecessary. Other cultures also have examples of racism and degradation in their pasts and literature. The message transcends cultural barriers and is relevant out of its original context.

The Shifting Heart by Richard Beynon and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini are two texts which come from not only different time periods but also different cultures, but still presents an insight into the psychology of racism and its victims and that the use of racist oppression and degradation is unnecessary and bears a negative effect on both the people and the society which it stems from. The Shifting Heart by Richard Beynon focuses on the oppression of Italian immigrants in Australia, in the 1950s after the end of World War Two.

Focusing on that of a family who wish to integrate into Australian society, it seems as though the society they wish to integrate into is mostly unaccepting of them. The two fences are representative of the two sides of the society they are integrating into, one side is completely closed off – the fence with the barbed wire – and shows that some parts of the society will never change and never accept people of a different race.

The other fence – the broken down picket fence – shows that even though on the outside there may seem to be acceptance, behind it there is still unsureness and uncertainty, shown through the drunken, wayward neighbour Donny Pratt. The Bianchi’s wish to be accepted is almost unnoticed by their new society and is overridden by their culture and differences to the stereotypical Australians. The Bianchi’s seem to not understand why they aren’t accepted, Poppa believes they have done everything right to fit in and yet they are still racially oppressed.

The use of “Momma Macaroni” and Poppa’s reaction to the use of it “why don’t they call her Mrs Steak and Eggs, huh? ” shows that there is a separation between the two people and cultures. The separation of the Bianchis’ and the Pratts’ is just a further example of how the racial oppression occurs in many ways and affects the people it is aimed at. The Australian society which seems to overlook this is represented as cold and unforgiving.

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner also comments on how a group of people attempt to integrate into a society but are pushed aside, the Hazara people in Afghanistan are looked on as inferior and are treated as such even though they are attempting to be a part of the society fully. The antagonist Assef describes the Hazara people as “dirty[ing] our blood” saying that the integration of them into his culture is ruining the purity of his nation, this idea of people wanting to integrate into society, willing to try and adorn our attitudes and values, only to be rejected is still relevant in other contexts.

The use of the racial slurs such as “flat nose” by Assef and his friends shows that they are completely unaccepting and closed off to the idea of the Hazara becoming a part of their society. This is still evident in modern society as well, with the arrival of asylum seekers and immigrants from other countries who are segregated and treated as inferior. Violence seems to be on par with racism and the degradation of other cultures.

The use of physical intimidation to put off and belittle others is something depicted in many literary texts, Beynon in The Shifting Heart shows violence at its peak, when the character of Gino is brutally bludgeoned to death by a group of Australians who do not like his involvement in the local dance scene. The use of violence in this text helps to consolidate that the idea of racism not only affects the individual negatively but the society as well.

The text seems to portray the stereotypical Australia alpha male as violent and physically imposing, ergo presenting the society as one that promotes this (by having this as the stereotypical male). The violence is shocking for the Bianchi family, who seem to have not experienced this form of presenting one’s superiority before. The character of the police officer only further imposes the idea that Australia is not welcoming of this different society, as he says “this one’s hot blooded by nature”, insinuating that because of his heritage, Gino was more prone to violence.

This is called “victim blaming” and the race of an individual in this case is used as a reason to blame the victim. This also happens in The Kite Runner after the rape of Hassan; Assef rationalizes his raping of Hassan by saying “it’s just a Hazara”, the use of the terms “it” and “just” show that Assef is completely uncompassionate towards his victim and uses his race to make the other boys accept what he is doing as right. After the event, nothing is done and no one comes forward, Hassan changes completely, but it is not only Hassan but Amir, Ali (Hassan’s father) and Baba who change as well.

These characters begin to fall into their “proper” social standings, where they “belong”, Hazara as servants and Pashtun as their superiors. The brutality of the situation shows the “true colours” of the Afghan way of thinking, that the Hazara are “just” things, lesser beings. The use of violence in both of these texts indubitably expresses how the true psychology of racism lies not only in those who are blatantly racist, but in those who live in a society which condones such acts. Even those who are accepting of other races may have been raised in a society which does not.

In times of grief or hardship they may look down on the people they care about, their relationships becoming strained by the issue of race. It seems as though, when strangers are racist towards them it means less than if someone who is supposed to be loving or caring towards them use their race as a way to put them down. The Shifting Heart looks at this idea towards the conclusion of the play, after the death of Gino and the visit from the police officer Clarry begins to argue with Poppa saying “the way you’re talking…anyone’d think I married a whole race”.

Clarry hasn’t come to terms with the fact that his marrying an Italian woman, means he has married her culture, her background. The effect of Clarry’s unacceptance is blatant in the reactions of the family to his comments. Poppa says “it only takes one to accept”, he believes that Clarry should “lead” the fight for acceptance for his wife’s people. This idea of how the actions of those who are close to those of another race is important as it shows a window into the society. Clarry is worried he’ll be judged for having a “wog name” on his truck, but the Bianchi’s don’t understand that.

To combat racism, we must learn to forget our position in our own society and be willing to accept those who are different, Clarry is not fully able to do this and it takes nigh on the whole play for him to come to terms with what he has inadvertently become a part of by naming his new son Gino. Relationships being affected by race is also evident in The Kite Runner, after the rape of Hassan, Amir runs away, showing his cowardice and it is in that moment that we know their relationship will never be the same. He was just a Hazara, wasn’t he? ”

Amir is conditioned to believe that this race is inferior, that they are allowed to be bullied, beaten and abused and be no more than servants. Hassan was still loyal to Amir (as were the Bianchi’s to Clarry) and yet Amir still ruined their relationship and used race as an excuse to ignore Hassan. Amir was worried about his standing with his father and the Afghan society, a society which was openly morally corrupt, focusing on wealth, race and stature as the most important parts of their society.

The use of racism in both of these situations shows that the person and society are negatively presented by their use and acceptance of the use of racism. Racism is a universal issue, whether it be white and black suppression or two seemingly similar cultures, it is everywhere. The idea is constantly presented as negative and a destructive tendency, not only in past literature but in modern literature as well. The message surpasses cultural barriers and seems to show a negative impact on not only the person who is racially degraded but the society which condones it is presented in a bad light.

The Shifting Heart by Richard Beynon and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini are two prime examples of how racism can affect people and society and how the constant conditioning of people will cause them to have underlying issues, such as racist tendencies and intolerance. They show the psychology of racism is underpinned by social values and a “mob mentality”, both texts portray accurate representations of racism in the time but also show how we can use this hindsight to move towards a society which has no racial intolerance.

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