The book The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi is taken place in the 1970s, specifically in England. Back in the 1960’s England needed labor force since their kind was getting old. Therefore, many people from Asia, mainly Indians, came to work. As a result, there was a change in cultures in England. Instead of having only one religion and culture now, there was a variety of each. Racial and social tensions were starting to grow between its people. Even though colonialism had ended, and all people were free to go and do whatever they wanted, people (mostly white supremacist one can assume) were still treating some with racism and disrespect — showing that the idea of colonialism and what it meant always stayed in the minds of many of the whites. The idea of colonialism still being present can be seen as Karim and Jamila go through life minding their own business, and yet, people appear to be treating them as the ‘other’- someone that will never be alike them or even remotely similar.
Karim, Jamila as well as others just like them spent most of their time experiencing racism because of the color of their skin and where their parents are from. Just as when Karim was with his sexual interest, Helen and her father saw them together and screamed, ‘However, many niggers there are, we don’t like it. We’re with Enoch. If you put one of your black ‘ands near my daughter, I’ll smash it with an ‘ammer! With an ‘ammer (Kureishi, 40).’ One can see how racist and superior-like his comment was when you understand who Enoch was as well as to what he represented. He was a Conservative Member of Parliament who gained most of his spotlight and his massive popularity after his 1968 speech called ‘Rivers of Blood.’ In this speech, part of what he criticized was mass immigration and anti-discrimination legislation. Enoch in this speech showed superiority and made the ‘whites’ belief how things had to restore itself like it was before. Back when there was a superiority race and when the lower race worked for them. People that are with Enoch, in a way, believe that the whites are better and superior to any other race, which in a way can remind someone of how the colonist used to feel and think of the people they were colonizing — showing that the beliefs of colonists were still in use in modern society. With those beliefs and way of treating people came effects to their identities.
While living in the South London suburb, Karim was subject to the harsh reality of his school and of being attacked if he isn’t able to fit what others consider to be conformity. The conformity being the standards of having the same attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Which one can assume they meant to being white and a Christian. This can be seen in the book as Karim annoyed and upset states, ‘I was sick too, of being affectionately called Shit face and Curry face, and coming home covered in spit and snot and wood shavings (Kureishi, 63).’ Because Karim looked a certain way and thought a certain way as well, the kids in his school felt with the right to treat him lesser than themselves. The teachers never intervene in how they were treating Karim, and if they did they would just join to acknowledge once more how different he was. Just as the teacher would make him sit in his lap in a way showing how Karim just as the colonized were there to serve and satisfied their needs. Karim learned at a very young age that if he isn’t like the other kids, he cannot be part of them; in a way, he learned that he should consider himself to be the ‘other.’ Just as the colonist taught the colonized to think of themselves. They were compared to animals, but they were never compared or thought as equal to the colonists, therefore thinking of themselves as ‘other’ than English. As well as to convinced them that they needed the help of the British because since they were not like them therefore didn’t have the capacity to succeed in their own.
As Jamila one of Karim’s friend would mind her own business, she would see how the whites that were part of some union would walk around the streets and treat the immigrants and people that was from a different races wrongly and cruelly. Jamila would state, “Frequently the mean, white, hating faces had public meetings and the union jacks were paraded through the streets protected by the police (Kureishi, 56)”. They were allowed to do as they wish with no consequences for they were protected from the people that they were hurting and insulting. Seeing this, again and again, lead for Karim to noticed that ‘Many of Jamila’s attitudes were inspired by the possibility that a white group might kill one of us one day (Kureishi, 56).” Her witnessing these ‘white’ men causing so much harm and getting away with it, cause Jamila to fear that end they would be able to get away with something more painful and hurtful. This make one realize how in a way the idea of what colonialism represented has never disappeared. Back in the time when the Indians were being colonized by the British, the colonized were always in fear of being killed by a colonizer if they didn’t do what they said. They were scared of being mistreated for the simplest thing like saying the wrong thing or looking at them a specific way. And now Jamila living in the modern ages is feeling the same fear and felling of insecurity that her ancestors were feeling years ago. In a way showing that history repeats itself and that it can show itself in many forms and shapes.
In the novel the ‘white’ treated Jamil, Karim and people just like them with disrespect and as lesser than. As mention in class as we began the novel, the British lived in fear that immigrants would someday revolt against them and treat them how the British treated the colonized. They tried to avoid that by bringing the other races down and torturing them as much as they could to keep the reigns in their hands. Due to this, people lived in fear of dying in the palm of a ‘white’. As Karim saw Jamil practice Karate and Jodi, he knew what was happening, ‘She was preparing for the guerilla was she knew it would be necessary when the whites finally chamber or push us into the leaky boats (Kureishi, 56).’ All the different experiences and different observations she was seeing made her understand and assume that only thing was possible in the future and she had to get ready to protect herself and family when it finally occurred. She was getting ready for the thought that the whites would someday again try to colonize them or enslave them. As a result of what Karim and Jamil were experiencing, they had, in a way, changed or play around with who they were, basically their identities. Because of this, Karim claimed, ‘Yeah, sometimes we were French Jammie and I, and others we went black American. The thing was, we were supposed to be English, but to the English, we were always wogs and nigs and Pakis and the rest of it (Kureishi, 53).’ Karim, as well as to Jamil, can change who they are as they experience different situations in a way to survive the cruelty of the white. But as it mentions, to the English no matter what they do or no matter how much they prove that they English, they will always be consider something else except for English.
The novel, in a way, is a representation of what post-colonial modern society looks like. One might think it was all petals and roses, but in reality, most English or white people still had the same mentality that the British colonist had when they colonized the people they deemed as lesser than or the lower race. Karim and Jamil represent the idea of what happened to the colonized when colonization ended. They were left fearing that one day history can repeat itself, and that they could once again belong to someone else other than themselves. They were left, not knowing who they should become or what their identity was. On the one hand, they could’ve either embrace who they were, but they would be shot down with insults and racism, or they could embrace the culture of others and either way still be shot down with insults and racism. For immigrants and people of other cultures and races, there was no trying to be equal to the whites. To the whites, they were always going to be what they have thought of them to be since the days of colonization, animals.
- Kureishi, Hanif. The Buddha of Suburbia. Faber and Faber, 1990.