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White Teeth: The Problem of Lacking a Role Model

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My mother and my father are black. My mother grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and my father grew up in Warrior, Alabama. I consider myself a black woman in America, I try to refrain from calling myself African American because I do not know what part of Africa my family originated from. My parents can’t teach me about the struggles of being African, but they can teach me about the struggles of being black. They did not sugar coat anything when teaching me about certain problems I would face. They bluntly told me people will hate you because you are black. They told me my voice would not be acknowledged as much because I am a female. They told me that I might be glared at, called names, or profiled as someone up to no good. Most importantly, they told me that none of the negative things I would be told about my people were true. The point I am trying to make is that without being informed about my culture at a young age, I would easily be influenced by others and would assimilate to whatever seems normal. If there were good role models, communication, and cultural practice for the twins, they would not have assimilated to England and its ways as drastically as they did.

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While reading White Teeth, I noticed there was a lack of a role model for Magid and Millat when it came to how Bangladeshi men should be. Their father, Samad is Bangladeshi and proud of it but he is also human, which means he is going to make mistakes as he tried to teach his children about their culture. Samad had contradicting ways about him, for instance, he had lost faith in his son Millat because of his smoking, drinking, having sex, etc. but Samad was masturbating, drinking, and sneaking around to see Millat’s teacher Poppy. These things are against his religion and he does feel bad about them, but that does not change the fact that he is doing it. Some of the same things he is crucifying his son for are some of the same things he is doing. “Samad had finally phoned Archie and confessed the whole terrible mess: he cheated, he was cheating; he had been seen by the children and now he was seeing the children, like visions, day and night” (Smith, 184). This is a very important part of the story since this portrays Samad to be a hypocrite and a bad role model. If Samad wants his son to straighten up and be a proud Bangladeshi man, then he should lead by example and show him what a proud Bangladeshi man looks like. Instead he is doing the same things he is yelling at his son about. Again, this is not degrading his character as a father, but simply saying that he should find another way to explain to his son why what he is doing is wrong. Actions speak louder than words when it comes to children, so to say one thing but do the exact opposite will not help them in their development as people.

In this book, one realizes that Samad doesn’t really talk to his children or his wife Alsana. He wants them to embrace their Bangladeshi culture, but he never really explained the importance of knowing the country’s legacy or heritage. He just assumed that by telling them to do so they would follow his instructions, and when they didn’t, he went to extreme measures to try and make them. In chapter 8 “Mitosis” Magid is told that he is going on a trip with Auntie Zinat and when he asks, if he will be back Monday to check on his science project, Samad says, “You’ll be in school on Monday, Magid. I promise. Now sit back in your seat, go on. For Abba, please” (Smith, 209). He lied to his son about coming back and he did not even inform Alsana that he was sending Magid off. This leads to issues because Magid does not understand why he was sent to Bangladesh, he was not told the purpose of being separated from his brother, and he was shipped away as if he was not wanted. Due to all of this not being communicated with him when he went to Bangladesh, he probably did not ask about the culture, traditions, or customs of the country. He of course learned some things due to being there so long, but probably did not ask questions or try to learn anything new about himself. Alsana was furious when she found out about this to the point that she never directly answered anything Samad asked for years. Her answer to everything was maybe, maybe not, possibly, I do not know, etc. This caused problems in their marriage because Alsana felt this was a decision that should have been discussed. Kidnapping and shipping a child off without discussing it is bound to cause some type of trauma and resentment.

The most harmful part of this story that led to the family’s assimilation was the lack of communication, cultural practice, and appreciation. For many people their name is a huge part of who they are and where they come from. It is quickly seen that Magid does not appreciate or understand the importance of his name. He lacks the knowledge of the history and meaning behind it. In chapter 6 “The Temptation of Samad Iqbal” Samad screams, “I GIVE YOU A GLORIOUS NAME LIKE MAGID MAHFOOZ MURSHED MUBTASIM IQBAL! AND YOU WANT TO BE CALLED MARK SMITH!” (Smith 151). It is obvious that this upsets Samad because Magid is literally wanting to change an important part of his identity. Another example of not appreciating his culture was when Poppy asked Magid about his favorite songs and he named American songs. This is not bad, but the teacher was trying to make him feel included and embrace his culture and he seemed to want nothing to do with it.

If Samad had talked more about the heritage and legacy of Bangladesh and then got the family involved in cultural activities when they were younger, they would have been used to it. By the time he wanted them to learn more about it and embrace it, they had already embraced the culture of England. Doing cultural activities and or talking about events that are happening back home would have been a way to know or understand the culture more. For Samad he feels an individual’s faith and culture is very important and there is one point in the book where he admits he feels defeated. When talking to Shiva he says, “I have been corrupted by England, I see that now- my children, my wife, they too have been corrupted” (Smith 144). It was around this time that he realizes how bad everything is and he wants to fix it but does not know how to do so. This all lead to the strictness and his drastic ways of trying to “save” his children that I referred to previously.

In the end, the family seems to be far from perfect. Millat is a boy who smokes, drinks, has sex, gets kicked out of class, and overall just rebels. He is the popular kid in school and everyone loves and or envies him. He joins Keepers of the Internal and Victorious Islamic Nation (KEVIN) which is one of the most extreme Islamic groups out there, to spite Samad who simply asked him and his brother Magid to be good Muslims. He even goes as far as trying to kill Dr. Perret who has helped Marcus with the Future Mouse project that his brother Magid is so fascinated with. Speaking of Magid, he was the “good kid” so he was shipped off to Bangladesh because Samad felt it would be easy to turn him into the perfect Bangladeshi Muslim man. He turned out to be quite the opposite fully embracing being an English man, even going as far as giving up all religious beliefs and focusing all his energy on science. These are extreme cases that could have been prevented if there was communication, good role models, and their culture was practiced at a very young age so they could learn to appreciate it. This doesn’t guarantee that at least one will not still stray away but the probability of it being this drastic is a lot less likely if these things were done.

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