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Reimagining stereotypes: from the lens of Mallett

To the girl in English class by Hafsat Abdullahi

To the girl in English class what is

funny what is hilarious about my painful

attempt to communicate in a language

that is not even my own so this accent

tells The Story of Survival tells how my

mother Tongue endured to this day so I

expect you treat my tongue with some

respect every word every syllable I

utter comes from a riot within my mouth

is a babble between subconscious tongue

Teeth and vocal cord so excuse you if my

speech does not soothe you so this speech

comes from this slaughterhouse I call a

mouth see my mouth is a battlefield a

clash of uneven cultures warring for

dominance in my tongue is a traumatized

Survivor lost in this alien fluency see

this accent is how I find my way home

how I say “inikipi” without biting my

tongue and my tongue is Forever at war

with itself forever fighting to

decolonize itself fighting to lose and

regain itself all at the same time

(Agbiti megi neke logi ogi shin)

“two elephants cannot pass the same feeble bridge”

So cut me some slack

I will not be ashamed not refrain from

saying my name and no I will not

apologize for my mother’s Legacy for

there is no dignity in denying my

identity so to the girl in English class

“Ewu Shoduwe”? How are you?

it's about time you learn my own

language too

Abdullahi, in her piece, brilliantly demonstrates why it is important to reclaim our indigenous tongues and reject these unrealistic expectations placed on us as non-native speakers of any language.

Mallett gives us the theoretical framework to examine how the dominant culture often shames people that do not fit the "normate gaze" (4). Her analysis is able to help us repackage slurs like "paindu" or "lunday kah angraiz" in the Pakistani context because it presents an imagining of these classical stereotypes as "subverting the normate gaze" (Mallett 4). This idea becomes more evident when we consider Abdullahi's poetic piece, where she uses an African proverb:

"(Agbiti megi neke logi ogi shin)"

“two elephants cannot pass the same feeble bridge.”

We are complete and complex humans that grow up speaking another language; to expect us to have command over a language that historically has been of the violent and oppressive colonizer is not only unrealistic but keeps us detached from the most vulnerable among us.

Hence, Abdullahi's ultimatum, "it's about time, you learn my language too," is a confrontation with the established power nexus of the language of the colonizer. Here she sets a precedent for all of us to reclaim our language and humanise it in front of the colonizer by setting the same expectation they have set for us.

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