Toni Morrison is an author I have a profound respect for. No, I do not understand her half the time. Yes, I am aware that a substantial portion of the connotations she lays out go so far over my head I would need to enlist NASA to help me understand. My respect for her is due to her ability to write something incredibly powerful in an everyday way. She would be a good blogger. Don’t worry, I’ll look in to it for us.
I was required to read Morrison’s story about Twyla and Roberta in two of my classes this week. Not only does that go to show her personal impact on the literary world, but it also attests to the multidimensional aspect of her writing. She has a rare ability to conjure up self-reflection from her readers. This week, I fell victim to this talent.
On Monday I detailed how wrong it was for Twyla and Roberta to judge each other hastily, and assume society’s presumptions about each other. We discussed the way that stereotypes are reinforced by looking at the differences between ourselves and others, and the way we define those different from us as “others”. I truly believe it is as simple as that. We see the differences, categorize the individual, apply the stereotypes, and continue on our way.
On Tuesday we talked about which of the two girls was African American and which girl was White. Not only had I not contemplated this part of the story, but I had automatically assumed Roberta was African American. The humiliating side of this presumption is the basis by which I constructed it.
Twyla associates a bad smell and uncleanliness with Roberta, and states that her mother will not be happy about their rooming situation. This alone was enough for me to deduce her race. Those two abhorrent, malicious, and just outright wrong observations convinced me. I use Spotify ever single day for at least 5 hours and am still unconvinced my $4/month subscription is worth it. This moment is also what I came back to when I realized we had never been explicitly told the girls’ races. Not only am I embarrassed of my inference, but I am dejected by my clear acceptance of the stereotypes I have encountered.
Why do I believe African Americans are commonly regarded as unclean and associated with dreadful smells? Why did I acknowledge one character’s opinion of another character, and apply it to a group of people? Why have I gone 3 days without showering, and think that I can apply uncleanliness to other people solely because of their race? Can I still l consider myself accepting and independent of the racial animosity plaguing out nation?
I am indecisive in regards to these questions, but I do know that I am thankful for Morrison’s uncanny ability to make me see things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I look forward to continuing this dissection of myself and the way we think about race.