'Babel' is a fierce criticism of racism in education | culture

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TW: Racism, sexual coercion

RF Kuang, author of “The Poppy War,” wrote his latest novel, “Babel,” as a way to express his love-hate relationship with his alma mater, Oxford University. But is Babel really worth reading?

“Babel” is the story of Robin Swift, an orphan from China, who was brought from his home country to study at the world’s top silver sculpture college, Babel. This institution in London is known as a mass producer of magic silver. Words can be carved into this silver to give it magical properties. This is a skill that only multilinguals who speak and dream in their native language possess.

But the appeal of “Babel” isn’t so much in its magical system or in the fact that the entire book is written within a precise timeline of the 20th-century revolutions in Britain and China, but in the book’s major historical events. Each moment is marked and detailed in the index. What makes “Babel” so appealing is the fact that the entire book is devoted to the study of Eurocentrism in education, a desperate analysis of a topic that has been neglected throughout fiction.

Racism is difficult. Racism is sensitive. Racism can be done wrong in so many ways, but Kuang manages to navigate the landmines of the topic with his one hell of a literary analysis.

Robin is portrayed as a character deeply afraid of the repercussions of standing up for himself, often ignoring racial jabs and culturally agnostic questions in order to maintain his position at Babel.

It doesn’t help that Babel is a world Robin never imagined could enter, let alone influence. However, because of his native skills in speaking Mandarin, the school decided he would be useful for their program.

The problem with this is obvious. Robin goes hand in hand with his inevitable legacy. He was young when he was kicked out of a small seaside village in China, but he knows he’s in Babel because he’s needed, not because he’s respected. .

Time and time again we see Robin teased for her appearance, teased for her accent, and forced to become a white pass because her father was a professor. A disgusting fact that suggests that Robin may be the product of sexual coercion. All this affliction is showing the long awaited clear results. Robin eventually snaps under pressure.

This is very obviously similar to what most minority students are experiencing in higher education today. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll join a rebel group aimed at overthrowing the institution, but many groups will come across what Robin does. That is, the knowledge that our culture has been appropriated, taken for granted, and measured against the desires of foreigners. It gives us catharsis through the long-awaited destruction that we all have been waiting for, even though the chances of such a violent revolution actually happening are extremely low.

I’m not asking you to become a riot fanatic right away to enjoy this book, but I’m asking you to keep an open mind. If you’re interested in why cultural revolutions happen, or how historical instability happens, this is a pick-me-up, especially in explaining dangerous racial ideologies and dismantling them from the inside out. It’s a suitable book.

This is all the more important today as modern fiction and society are becoming more and more inclusive. Along the way, you’ll need to have more uncomfortable arguments, even if they’re terrifying.

All I can say is that if you’re not looking for a scathing critique of patriarchal, white-dominated education, this isn’t the book for you. If you want a deep philosophical discussion, please choose “Babel”.

The easiest way for me to describe “Babel” is through the author’s summary quote itself. If betrayal is painful, Eurocentrism is at the heart of it. And, as the entire book hints at, the longer you ignore it, the more devastating your anger becomes.