In Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”, Morrison tells the story of two childhood friends who struggle to maintain their once strong, intimate connection as racial tensions loom over them throughout the years. However, despite the prevalent racial theme throughout the reading, Morrison leaves the races of the two girls equivocal, only allowing the reader to know that one is white and one is black. When I originally read the piece myself, I struggled to detect the races of Twyla and Roberta. I was surprised to discover the next day that many of my classmates did not have the same issue.
We were divided up into separate groups and told to examine and provide evidence for opposite viewpoints of the definitive races of each girl. My group had to prove that Twyla was white and Roberta was black. While we searched the text and discussed possible arguments, I realized that all of our convictions were rooted in stereotypical thinking that I knew none of my group members, including myself, truly believed. For example, upon meeting Roberta, Twyla shares what her mother told her about people of Roberta’s race, that they “never washed their hair” and “smelled funny” (Morrison 243). We immediately categorized this as a “black trait” both from stereotypes we had previously heard as well as convictions made by the authors of previous articles we read in class. As our conversation continued and as we opened up to a class discussion, I discovered we were no longer trying to categorize two characters in a short story, but rather, we were trying to define the difference between whiteness and blackness.
In the end, our class determined that Morrison’s ambiguity was purposeful and spoke to a greater point about the nature of race. Although we spent an hour attempting to discern the whiteness or blackness of the two characters, what we failed to originally realize was that people cannot be put into categories of white and black. We all have different traits and characteristics that make us who we are, some of which we share with those of a like race and some of which we share with those of a different race. No one person can be defined by the color of their skin as Morrison poignantly remarks in this short story.