Most people across the world think that racism is a topic that is non-existent. As such, they think that racism ceased to be present in America and other parts of the world since people are not under slavery anymore. However, only people who have experienced racism truly know that racism is typically a pervasive feature that is both inferential and overt in the contemporary society. They understand that issues of racism are real and cannot be ignored (Davis 12). People who live in areas that are prone to racism experience discrimination every day at their work, school and neighborhood. As such, they are looked down upon and they fear moving out of their homes to meet with the majority who torment them. By using the issue of race as the means of judging, people tend to generate deep-rooted stereotypes among people. Today, racism has been normalized to the extent that people perceive racism as a non-issue. For instance, in mainstream media such as television, it has become common for filmmakers to use racial stereotypes in their programs and yet command big audiences as well as earn huge salaries. This has the implication that the mass media needs to do much before it is considered color blind. In the corporate world, the situation is the same where there are a few blacks and outsiders who are represented in marketing and business departments in organizations. Few minorities such as blacks are employed as agents, concert promoters, retailers, distributors and managers of recording labels in the entertainment industry (Algranati 570). These statistics point to the reality of racism in the contemporary world despite the obvious thinking by most people that it is not in existence. In the book The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the author, Hamid, right from the first page demonstrates how people tend to judge others based on how they dress, their skin color, as well as their mannerisms (Davis 13). It is the behavior of Americans whom he considers racists that shape the attitudes and impressions that Changez has in the United States. Changez’s friends, while he is studying at Princeton University, treat him in a respectable manner. However, they still perceive him as being an outsider in America. Later on, as Changez travels to other countries such as the Greece, he experiences subtle forms of racism. This is typified by the fact that even though his colleagues in Greece are not rude and disrespectful to him, they still think that he is an outsider and an exotic “pet.” Erica, a lady whom he met in Greece, though attracted to him, thinks he is different. Despite his perils, Changez is determined to win Erica’s heart by loving her. He is, therefore, deliberate in encouraging Erica as well as her friends to accept him even though he is different. Changez does not yet know who he is and to this extent, he thinks that others do not accept him because they hate him. This paper will examine the theme of racism in The Reluctant Fundamentalist novel and how it affects the characters. In particular, the paper will explore the issue of racism by considering the characters of Chengez and Erica and how they help in illuminating the theme of racism. It will describe their experiences with racism in their won context. This paper will argue that the author has used the characters of Erica and Chengez effectively to demonstrate that the issue racism is real in the society and that the society will need to do more to eliminate the problem.
Hamid, in this novel, invites his readers to powerfully but constructively examine the US culture from his perspective of culture. Hamid understands that life in the twenty-first century has rapidly changed and, therefore, people may be ignorant of the critical issues that the twentieth-century individuals had but which the current generation may consider as non-existent but which nevertheless are important. As such, human rights have been upended into constitutions and hence discrimination is criminalized, but only just in books and never anywhere else (Davis 8). For the author, his life depicts that of his main character in the book. The author, like Changez, his twenty-two-old character in the novel, was born in Pakistan. Hamid as a young kid lived in the United States but later traveled back to Pakistan early before he came back to America to pursue his education. To this end, Hamid considers himself as half-American but a New Yorker. He was educated at Princeton and later worked in a leading bank in the United States as a consultant in management. On the other hand, his character entered into the United States when he was enrolled in college. This was the first time that the character interacted with the American culture. Before the September 11 bomb explosion in America, Chengez was only experiencing mild forms of racism while in his day-to-day businesses in America. The attitudes of Americans towards foreigners and especially Muslims changed with the attacks. The World Trade center was bombed by Muslim terrorists and, therefore, most Americans begun to believe that Muslims were terrorists who did not deserve to live in America. They were viewed as criminals and terrorists (Yanow 36). The Americans were not as much concerned about him being around him as it did after the explosions. Being a graduate from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Changez had hoped that this had epitomized his American dream. Changez had hoped that his life would be characterized by success, status, wealth, and opportunities. Even his accent was already associated with power and wealth and, therefore, considered himself as a New Yorker since he was at the pinnacle of his career. His attraction and romantic relationship that he desired with Erica would crown his successful career as well as his desire to be part of the sophisticated American society. While at the university, Changez tended to give an impression that he was generous and carefree. However, when out of college, he took a three-hour job so as to support his respectable image that he had created among his fellow students.
After the attacks, Changez encountered more hostile and overt racism forms in America. This was characterized by the fact that at the airport, he was detained and harassed while being referred to as an Arab even though he was in fact a Pakistani. This was an inferential racism. Inferential racism can be described as the naturalized situations and events that are related to a race, whether fictional or factual. In this case, all the Muslims are thought as Arabs whom Americans thought were all terrorists. There were widespread assumptions that were aimed at discriminating and punishing the Muslims as the Americans believed they were responsible for the attack on World Trade center in New York. It is the idea of racism that shape the common sense of people on how other people should act in the world. As such, racism is taken as a way of explaining and comprehending the world. When people disrupt what others think of themselves and their race, it is more obvious that they will feel the pain. They will feel some form of discomfort and, therefore, a crisis or a conflict may result. This is typified by the fact that people who are profiled tend to be aggressive seeking their voice to be heard. In the process, they may end up causing conflicts hoping that they would have their voices heard (Yanow 23). He considers the police officers as profoundly unfair and vicious. Therefore, Changez refused to give in during the confrontation. He made things even worse by changing his attitudes and behavior so that it could be obvious that he was a foreigner in manner and appearance. Like most immigrants who were living in the United States during this period, Changez began to be discriminated against. Artificial barriers began to arise so that his opportunities were severely limited. The issues of racial segregation and exclusion were happening even long after several years had passed since the adoption of equal opportunities. It is racism that drives Changez out of the United States and he returns to Pakistan because he could not cope with the mistreatment. Even before the United States became a republic, its society has many instances where people disagreed on the account of racial differences. This resulted into the labor movement emergence, southern plantations as well as the Western expansion. Various groups across the globe have historically encountered specific racial oppression forms. For instance, the blacks were taken as slaves, Native Americans have suffered genocide, and Asians were excluded while Mexicans were colonized. In all these groups, the common denominator was that their fate was associated with historical ideas that others have about the meaning and significance of a race. For a long time, the white view themselves as superior people as compared to the inferior others. They, therefore, wrongly conclude that others should be their subordinates because their culture and organization is superior to that of others. As such, in North America the main source of conflict about race ideology is the idea of “others” and “us” (Davis 10). In this case, the white Americans feel that they are better than other races such as the blacks and view others as unfairly competing for the American resources which belong to them. They, therefore, want to push them out of America to their countries.
As a result, it is racism and prejudice that lead Chengez to begin his criticism of America despite that he previously loved America. He, therefore, begins to be critical of things and systems in the United States. As he returns home, Changez is a changed person. He is prepared to criticize that same system that belittles and harms his racial and cultural identity. He develops his sense of self when he remembers the consequences of his relationship with Erica. Recently, the preexisting racial boundaries in the United States have been gradually crumbling because they have been threatened by informed and enlightened people (Yanow 18). People are becoming increasing aware that even though they are different, these differences should not be used to judge and discriminate others (Algranati 572). Educated people understand that difference in physical appearances and cultures should never be used to divide people but to unite them. Diversity is celebrated among learned people.
Changez’s awakening coincided with the attack on the World Trade Center in the United States. After this attack, new racist incidents against the Muslims were recorded. Typically, before the attack occurred, Chengez never felt conspicuous while interacting with whites in the United States. Only on few instances along the highway did he feel noticeable. However, when the attack occurred, he felt his appearance increase and, therefore, he could be noted easily. As such, while he is walking in shopping malls, and the airports he has to be searched more than his white colleagues. Again, during the same time the FBI began to raid shops, mosques as well as houses seeking to intimidate Muslims and Arabs using derogatory and racist language. He started to feel that the Americans did not deserve to treat other people from a different race in such a demeaning language. He, therefore, made up his mind to start acting like a real Muslim and a Pakistani. He begun to put on a beard so as to symbolize his sense of pride as a Muslim. He was critical of the American culture that prioritizes only economic fundamentalism and which focuses on meritocracy. The American economic system treats employees as clients and business liabilities or assets. Employees existed to increase their productivity so that the business organization could be profitable. He started to challenge his colleages to rethink how they viewed him at work. As he returns to Pakistan, Chengez, just like Hamid, suggests that the society and the workplace ought to create policies that help in resolving conflicts in ways that respect the cultural roots of others and never mock them (Algranati 574). He also observes that the society should not erect boundaries that reinforce racial stereotypes but rather encourage people to transcend the boundaries that racial stereotypes erect (Yanow 11). The society should not be deliberate about erasing the culture of people it considers as minority but help them integrate well in their society.
In conclusion, Erica is involved in a romantic relationship with Chengez. However, she does not want to be committed to the relationship and, therefore, she wants it to use it so as to reinvent and recreate her previous relationship with an American man, Chris. The plan does not succeed and, therefore, Erica became depressed. When she was admitted to a hospital, she realizes that it was only Changez who, despite being from a different culture, was real. Chengez was making her lose her sanity. Changez, maintains that if people become obsessed with previous things and events, they lose their essence and perspective in life (Yanow 39). In this case, such people miss to understand the beauty of the community that they live in. As Erica was obsessed with the previous dead lover, this experience overrode the present reality, thus threatening her ability to be in other romantic attachments. To overcome the depression it was imperative that Erica agreed to allow this relationship to be intimate, thus transcending racial boundaries. People must move away from the misconceptions and embrace cultures of other people (Algranati 573). They must embrace diversity in their communities. Therefore, it can be seen clearly that the author has used the characters of Erica and Chengez effectively to demonstrate that the issue racism is real in the society and that the society will need to do more for the issue to come to the end.