Discuss the theme of racism based on stigmas and stereotypes in the novel Second-Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta.

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novel Second-Class Citizen can be analyzed from a perspective of racism. There are many forms of racism in the novel. Clearly, the English harbor their own forms of racism against immigrants, including Nigerians like Adah and Francis. For example, Adah's son has to receive medical care at a second-class hospital when he is stricken with meningitis, and Adah and her family must live in a run-down neighborhood when they arrive in London. Her husband, Francis, tells her:

"Everyone is coming to London, the West Indians, the Pakistanis, and even the Indians, so that African students are usually grouped together with them. We are all blacks, all coloureds, and the only houses we can get are horrors like these" (page 35).

The white English people view all brown-colored foreigners as the same, and they make housing available in immigrant neighborhoods for them, but not in neighborhoods where English-born white people live. The English hold stereotypes that all brown people are the same and should be segregated in housing, medical care, and other areas.

Adah harbors her own stereotypes and class-based stigmas. For example, when she arrives in London, she thinks, "to her horror, she saw that she had to share the house with such Nigerians who called her Madam at home" (36). She has had an elite education and background in Nigeria, and she harbors her own stereotypes of Nigerians from lower-class backgrounds as crude and lesser.

Her husband, Francis, tells her:

"You may be earning a million pounds a day...but the day you land in England, you are a second-class citizen. So you can't discriminate against your own people, because we are all second-class" (37).

He says that although Adah would never speak to a bus conductor in Nigeria, in England, the black middle-class are composed of bus conductors. Adah has her own stereotypes of lower-class people, but she realizes that in England, all black people are stereotyped as lower class and undeserving of having educated jobs. She also has stereotypes of her neighbors, who are Yoruba, and of a different tribal background than she has (she is an Igbo).

Though the book also deals with the second-class citizenship that Adah suffers as a result of her husband's cruelty and sexism, it is also clear that both Adah and Francis suffer from the racist attitudes of many English people and that Adah at first has her own stereotypes to overcome. She eventually becomes a proponent of anti-racism and anti-sexism and insists that she and her children fight for first-class citizenship.

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Second-Class Citizen

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