Ethnic and Racist Discourse in Postcolonial African Text: A Critical Linguistic Analysis of Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them

Ikenna Kamalu


Working within the tenets of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) with insights from the Theory of Conceptual Metaphor, this paper examines the construction of racist and ethno-religious oriented discourses that engender and legitimize acts of violence and domination in group relations in Africa. The study aims at exposing the ideology that underlies the construction of text and talk in Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them.  The data were derived from two of his short stories: “Luxurious Hearses” (LH henceforth), and “My Parents’ Bedroom” (MPB henceforth). While the former is a “factional” representation of the violent religious “wars” that engulfed Nigeria in 2000, the latter is on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  Apart from the identity of discourse participants and the location of events which are fictionalized in some instances, every other detail of the texts is a factual account of the 1994 and 2000 ethno-religious crises in Rwanda and Nigeria. The texts show how groups use language to construct individual and collective identities, legitimize their actions, and justify acts of violence against others. Analyses show how the postcolonial African democratic context breeds a culture of hatred, intolerance, violence, exclusion, and curtailment of individual and group rights, and how these acts are enacted in text and talk.

Key Words:  Ethnic and racist discourse, Ideology, Uwen Akpan, Exclusion, Legitimization of violence, Identity, Nigeria, Rwanda.

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