I wrote the following short essay for my Communications Theories and Analysis course at Athabasca University. The purpose of this essay was to analyze a piece of writing without knowing the context or title of the work (I added the title after I learned more about the author and the context).
The original story was passed orally, as is with most historical tribal communication. Unfortunately, the more I study the written English language, the more I’ve discovered how it is inherently racist. Please consider that lens while reading.
Racism is a universally immoral story in human history. What makes racism so impactful is not the hatred between people, but how social systems have been constructed to oppress people of a certain race. Privilege is the superior position of one race over another, and it can be supported by the church and the state. The story “Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu” is about how institutionalized prejudice and privilege influence communication, and ultimately lead to revolt.
First, the church and the state of the animal kingdom have power over the man in the story. The comical representation of anthropomorphic animals in a social structure lets the audience ignore inherent biases that might interfere with the author’s message. However, what the animals are saying is no laughing matter. The animals believe they are acting with God’s blessing to protect the man’s interest (Kenyatta). Using religion as a shield to justify decisions that unfairly judge people is an exercise of group superiority. Next, the animals turn to the animal kingdom’s state legal system. When the animals suggest they have heard from “various unbiased sources” that counter the “backwardness of [the man’s] ideas”, they are dismissing the man’s arguments before the arguments are made (Kenyatta). Since the legal counsel in the story is made up of all animals with no human representation, the man has no hope for a fair trial.
Second, unilateral prejudice causes the man to revolt. The man burns the animals alive because he believes that “‘peace is costly'” (Kenyatta). Unfortunately, the man’s drastic actions are a result of a system designed to oppress him. Before the man revolts, he exhibits fear because his huts are constantly occupied by animals that could easily kill him (Kenyatta). The use of fear to oppress a minority of a different race is racism. The cost of an imbalanced system can result in drastic action after prolonged suffering.
To conclude, the author literally turns the tables of racism by making the man inferior to the animals. How the animals and the man communicate is completely influenced by the unbalanced power, which is supported by the critical tradition.
Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu. London: Secker and Warburg, 1938. Accessed 28 Mar 2020.