What’s up with the outdated language in description of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing?

My sister-blog, bookshy (whom I met in Aké and it was fab!) gave us an early look at the New Releases for 2016 in which she mentions Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Coincidentally, I’d seen a tweet with a link to a short story, ‘Inscape’, by Gyasi in Guernica. Anywho, folks been tweeting about Yaa Gyasi in my African Literature corner of Twitter.

So, here is the description of the book at Penguin Random House:

  1. ‘Tribal villages’ ‘tribal wars’

I know folks refuse to let the T-word die the death that it deserves.  The word is at best anachronistic, and at worst a verbal representation of  slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. It hurts most when the descendants of the previously-enslaved and colonized people of this world cling on to it.

2. ‘Half-caste children’.

This is a derogatory term.  I am stunned to find it used in Homegoing‘s description.

From wiki:

“Half-caste is a term for a category of people of mixed race or ethnicity. It is derived from the term caste, which comes from the Latin castus, meaning pure, and the derivative Portuguese and Spanish casta, meaning race, and is generally considered offensive but not always (such as in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands).”

A “half-caste” is meant to connote a “half-breed”, an “impure” someone etc. Even if we stretched it into a modern context (but also problematic) like the way caste is used in India, a ‘half-caste’ would still be derogatory and offensive. It has racism, prejudice and classism written all over it.

We’ve used it a lot in Ghana and the term still persists in some quarters. But that’s inexcusable. It was (and probably still represents for some folks) the go-to word for biracial and multi-racial people.  I remember using the term, in my pre-teens, to describe a family friend’s child. I’ve never forgotten the pain and horror that the mother expressed. It is a horrible term. Horrible!

A biracial person or a person of mixed race isn’t less than whole.

Kinna, this is what you get for assuming. Because part of my outrage in finding the term in a Penguin Random House blurb about an epic story, that is partly based in Ghana, is my assumption that both the publisher and the author should know better, and therefore would be more sensitive.

Well, it ain’t so!




  1. It pains me to say it, but the blogger who cut-and-pasted that blurb without amendment should have known better too. Perhaps it was done in haste, but still…


Comments are closed.