Toni Morrison’s piece Recitatif tells the story between a white girl and an African American girl. Their experience of the two girls, Twyla and Roberta, growing up together was forms the main line of the story, but readers never get to know who is the white girl and who is the African American girl. We had a heated discussion in class today to determine who is who in the story, and we were also required to find evidence from the text to support the argument.
After all the evidence were listed on blackboard, what I notice the most is our stereotypes about African American people. What we regard as the text evidence to support the claim that a certain character is the African American in the story are mostly like this: “they never washed their hair and they smell funny”; the one with a rich husband working at IBM is white while the one with a husband as a firefighter is African American; the one living in a community of doctors and executives is the white but the one living in Newburgh is the African American etc. We tended to associate all the “bad” things to African American—uncleanness, low pay, low social status and poor living conditions. It’s the white who can have a good life. It just strike me a lot how the two races perceived so differently—one is like at the top of the society while the other one is in the lower half.
Can’t African American people have a lavish life? Do they all smell bad? Can’t they be doctors or executives other than servants at restaurants? I am sure the answer to those questions are very clear. But it’s the history of racism and slavery that make people have such negative associations with African American people. There was a deep-rooted discrimination against them back in the 19th and 20th century. They were not treated equally and did not have the chance to be successful as the white people did. That’s part of the reason why they often carry bad associations, and it’s the typical way they were depicted in literature set in that particular period of time. Now we live in a society where everyone can have equal opportunities, and discrimination toward other races has largely gone away (I have to admit though that it can still be seen in some way sometimes), and all those negative stereotypes and associations about African American as well as other races should be gone.