What we should take away from Slave Song

When referring to colonialism and its effects on specific groups of people, it is tricky to find a clear answer without acknowledging them as a group rather than as individuals. This is highly problematic as it leads to stereotypes and assumptions about people. Dabydeen is critiquing this common Western tendency by doing this exact thing within the critical apparatus of Slave Songs. The different poems he claims “are largely concerned with an exploration of the erotic energies of the colonial experience” (10), a line which he contradicts on the next page by saying what “peasant women” and “men” do. This implies that all peasant women are the same and that all Guyanese men are the same. Thus, Dabydeen is revealing the way in which westerners freeze native culture.

By looking at the translation of the poem, “Men and Women”, it is apparent Dabydeen groups people under one stereotype, as he describes “the peasant, like so many Guyanese peasants under the influence of rum, beat his wife then later abandoned her with a hutch of children to support, a common fate for country women” (63). He is mocking the association of all Guyanese people with qualities of violence and alcoholism and reiterates it by adding that it is a common fate. The audience is not supposed to take this information literally, rather they are supposed to question the purpose of interpreting the poems this way.

Another example is present in the translation for “Brown Skin Girl” when Dabydeen says “some Guyanese women ‘willingly’ give themselves to the white men in a new kind of prostitution. They do so out of a deep feeling of inferiority” (68). Here, Dabydeen is critiquing the ways the colonial experience is described, as it is making assumptions about how Guyanese women feel. This text can be seen as a call to action of the way Westerners appropriate the cultures and experiences of other countries. It is important for us as Western academics to understand this notion and respect it.

Works Cited: Dabydeen, David. Slave Song. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2005. Print.

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