It’s only the third week of school, and I’ve changed my schedule around so many times that it’s hard to keep track. One class that I picked up, on a whim, is a lit class on African American women authors because hey, I love Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Why not take it? (I should just throw it out there that I’m a firm believer in taking classes that may not work towards your major because when are you ever going to have the chance again?)
It became very clear early on, however, that this class is exactly something I need for my own development as a feminist and a student. Last week, we read Recitatif by Toni Morrison, which I had never had the chance to read prior to this class. For anyone who hasn’t read this short story, it’s about two girls, Twyla and Roberta, who met when they lived together in a reform school in the 70’s. One is white and the other black. However, it is never explicitly said the races of either girls.
Half way through the story, I realized that I was pulling out “context clues” to try to determine the race of the narrator. I was doing exactly what it is that we try to teach people to stop doing. I was trying to put a label on the narrator to make myself feel like I understand the story by using the worst stereotypes. The same stereotypes that are ingrained in us from a young age when we first start to learn that “race makes us different” on the playground. This girl can’t read? This one is married to a very wealthy man? This girl’s mother was a stripper? We see these stereotypes all the time, and sometimes, it’s so hard to realize when we are being racist.
I think that was one of the beautiful aspects of Recitatif, however. Morrison makes the reader realize that they are focusing on this one thing that isn’t even really important to the story. Yes the racial strife in the 70’s is important thematically, but it doesn’t matter whether or not you know the specific race of the narrator. Once you realize this, it’s so clear how our society (and history in general) has made a huge deal over something that should be really trivial.
If you haven’t read the story, I suggest you that you should (and then go out and buy anything Toni Morrison has ever written because she’s amazing.)