To see books or bodies of knowledge as exclusively white, black, male or straight is to spectacularly miss the point. It is first and foremost human knowledge. Moreover, the bigger issue at stake here – and why its composition is always so contentious and highly politicised – is the way in which the canon has been used throughout history to serve as an intellectual justification for the abuse of power, backed up by spurious claims of racial supremacy, which has often resulted in appalling malfeasance.
Given that whoever controls the canon has a monopoly on power, we must be mindful of the ramifications of that for people of colour. In so doing, please let’s put pay once and for all to the nefarious lie that has been propagated for centuries to such brutal and dehumanising effect – that white has the monopoly on the cerebral, whilst black is solely physical.
Proud as I am of my black South African heritage, my principal allegiance is to the only race which is not a social construct – the human race. For this reason, the Latin playwright Terence (himself an African slave from Carthage) is my hero and his famous dictum the most eloquent and incisive antidote to this PC imbecility: “I am a human being and I consider nothing human alien to me.”
It’s often claimed that accepting or conforming to Western canonical standards necessarily means non-white people have to pay too high a cultural price and swap authentic ethnic identity for inauthentic something artificial and inauthentic. Lindsay Johns at ibtimes disagrees and argues the case for the universality of great literary works: