Auto ethnography is a type of writing and self-reflection, which analyzes the experiences of a person or a researcher and connects them with the wider cultural, social, and political understandings and meanings (Sikes 20). However, this definition seems to differ with that of Mary Louise Pratt, introduced in her book “Arts of the Contact Zone,” emphasizing that,
I utilize the terms auto ethnographic expression and auto ethnography to refer to cases in which people who are colonized undertake to characterize themselves in terms, which relate with the terms of the colonizer. If Europeans use ethnographic texts to represent the subjugated, auto ethnographic are texts, which the subjugated use in response to those in authority (20).
Therefore, this paper attempts to explore the ways “Our Time” works as transcultural and auto ethnographic literature text. It bases its argument on the definition of the two terms by Pratt. To this effect, various quotations are analyzed. Throughout these analyses, Pratt’s definitions of these terms are considered to keep the arguments within the boundaries of Pratt’s definitions.
Pratt She has offered a number of cases of autoethnography in her piece. One of these examplee is a letter by an Andean named Guaman Poma, who wrote a long manuscript in 1613 to the Spanish king, Philip III. In this letter, Poma has pointed out that Spaniards are greedy and foolish. According to him, the Spanish brought to the Andeans guns and armor. They did not bring to them anything of importance. This is because they are only lustful for silver, gold, and power. Poma’s description is a response to them being colonizers. Through this representation, a reader is able to understand the behaviors of both groups – colonists and colonizers. For example, Poma portrays the Spaniards as bad people.
Transcultural texts are pieces of work, which portray behaviors that extend to different communities of people. Apart from being an auto ethnographic text, Poma’s letter is also transcultural. He encountered the Spanish in a social space or contact zone where the two cultures met. Because of this contact, he educated himself on Spanish culture (Pratt 24). With the newly acquired knowledge, he presented to the world his view on Spanish. Poma wrote the letter in both the Quechua and Spanish languages. At the time, Quechua was neither considered a written language nor Andean traditions considered literate. Poma’s letter demonstrated that view to be wrong. He also used a number of drawings to depict the two cultures. They showed the Inca lifestyle and the greed character of the Spanish. Poma’s drawings were European in style with unique Andean symbolisms, which convey aspirations and values of the Andean. The similarities between behaviors of the two communities made Poma’s letter to be transcultural.
The rebellious nature of Robby makes Wideman’s work to acquire auto ethnographic nature. In the writing, Robby talks of his past. He talks of growing up as the youngest child having to fulfill the expectations, which had been set up by his siblings. Through Robby’s viewpoint, the reader is able to understand the problem with the familial structure. This is evident in his quotation: “Me and mess hooked up. See, it was a matter of becoming somebody. Like you had good grades and sports sewed up. There was nothing I could do in school or sport, which you had not done already” (Wideman 87). In this way, Robby portrays himself to be young and unable to compete favorably with his family members, as they were the one who came up with the conditions. Hence, there was nothing left for him to do. In response to them, he became a rebel to the family.
Garth’s death also depicts the auto ethnographic nature of Wideman’s text. This is because it portrays the difficulties of the black people in the hands of the white people. Robby’s mother clearly tells the reader the conditions Garth was forced to face. She says, “They let Garth walk the streets until he was dead. It was very wrong. Worse than very wrong the way they did him, but that is how those dogs do to us every single day God sends them here” (Wideman 88). The description of the death of Garth shows a number of issues. It makes the reader understand the social injustice and racial and socioeconomic discriminations that faced Robby’s community.
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Mistreatment of Robby in the hands of the legal system demonstrates the auto ethnographic nature of the essay as well. Robby’s mistreatment caused his mother to criticize the legal system for its unfairness. This criticism portrays the difficulties that the blacks were passing through. Robby’s mother claimed, “In the failure to understand that Robby was first human, then a criminal, the individuals and the institution who took over the control of Robby’s life, denied him his humanity, but the existence of a world that Robby was nurtured and that nurtured her” (Wideman 88). The world of laughing, touching, suffering black people created Robby’s story to more than a number. Wideman used this part to extend Robby’s life example into a situation for all blacks.
These examples show the auto ethnographic nature of the story because they describe the situations of the weak in the hand of the strong. According to Pratt’s description of autoethnography, the death of Garth and the imprisonment of Robby pose Wideman’s work asautoethnographic. Through these particular events, the author presents to the world the difficult issue that the black population was going through. The point is the work describes the difficult situations of the subjugated in response to who were in authority.
The death of Robby’s friend makes Wideman’s work transcultural. Particularly, Robby did not want to let his friend down. He said, “When you considered it, Garth’s dying was nonsensical. And the more you considered it, you realize that nothing else did neither. The world is a stone bitch” (Wideman 76). Through this quotation, the reader understands the root cause of Robby’s anger. For him, his friend was not fairly treated. The doctors could have done something more to save his life. Robby was ready to avenge his death. He was not ready to let his closest friend down. For instance, he asserted, “There was no way I was going to let Garth down” (Wideman 76). This phrase shows his desire for power. He wanted to do something about the death of his friend. Following the reaction of Robby to Garth’s death, Wideman embodied the desires of blacks for power.
Another example that shows the transcultural nature of the text is the decision by Wideman to listen to his brother. Before, Wideman hated his brother for hurting their mother. By listening to his brother’s conversations in prison, he changed his view about him. When they were younger, he had distant himself from Robby. Through the interviews, he realized that they were similar. To illustrate, the narrator stated, “It had taken the guards, bars, and locks to bring the two of us together. We are so alike, I kept anticipating and thinking what Robby would say next, the way he would utter it, and filling it naturally with my words what Robby left unsaid” (Wideman 71). This quotation portrays the similarities between the two brothers. At first, the two of them did not think that they were alike. By extension, these two brothers can mean two races. Wideman, thus, talked of his similarity to his brother in order to show how the two races are similar.
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On the same point, Wideman use of Robby’s inability to change his behavior also confirms the transcultural nature of the text. While living in Shadyside, a neighborhood for the whites, Robby’s mother expected to see some positive changes in him. However, he did not change. This issue demonstrates some similarities between the blacks and the whites. As in Homewood, violence existed on the streets of Shadyside. This is the reason why Robby continued the way of life he got used to. Thus, there is a common behavior observed in these communities.
The tendency to depict similar behaviors makes Wideman’s work a transcultural text. For instance, the whites in Shadyside were violent as the black people in Homewood. Robby was as a result not able to change his behavior. Again, Robby’s decision to be a rebel to the white race portrays a behavior that is common to both communities. These ethnic groups representatives tend to want power. Again, Wideman’s recognition of his similarity with his brother seems to say that both the white race and black race share some similarities, which have not been found because each race has distant itself from the other.
Wideman’s work is both an auto ethnographic and transcultural text. Robby’s description demonstrates the situations when a subjugated race is forced to be an authoritative one. This makes Wideman’s work autoethnographic. The arguments by Robby’s mother also support this stand. This circumstance gives more information about the life of the blacks under rule of the whites. The transcultural nature of the text is evident throughout the essay as well. In most part of the work, the reader can identify behaviors, which are shared by both the white and the black people. For example, Robby’s inability to change his behavior while living near the whites shows the existence of violent behavior in Shadyside just like in Homewood.