Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Should Color Matter?

~Is Twyla White or Black? Is Roberta White or Black? 
I don't think we are supposed to be able to answer this, at times I thought I clearly had this figured out but then I realized it seems like in the second half of the story Morrison might have actually flipped their races in order to make the context even more confusing. Because I believe as a writer she had characters race in mind but flipped them to make sure that it wasn't something we could distinguish. Let me explain, "they never wash their hair" (3541) this is something that Twyla's mother told her about people like Roberta. I assumed to begin with this meant that Roberta was black and Twyla was white because well white girls HAVE to wash their hair daily otherwise it looks disgusting and that's not really a stereotype of the white race but growing up white people tend to be extremely confused about black hair and how it's treated, whether or not it's washed, how often and how. Of course everyone washes themselves but this sentence at the beginning I thought would create such a clear picture because that's just not a stereotype I've ever heard attributed to white people. Next was the sentence about the food Roberta refused to eat but Twyla liked "...Spam, Salisbury Steak, - even Jell-O with fruit cocktail in it..." (3542). This seemed that it could solidify the original idea that Twyla is white because Spam, Salisbury Steak and Jell-O are pretty regular meals in caucasian households. Of course not every household, and this example isn't perfect because anyone black, white, asian purple, anyone can eat this food and like or hate it but that's something I thought might be a sign. But then the script flips in the third encounter at the supermarket. When Twyla thinks to herself about Roberta "Easy I thought. Everything is so easy for them. They think they own the world." (3548). This is the point that I felt the race was switched and that she was creating this white preferential idea and painting this entitled race inequality picture that makes Roberta now look like she's the white character and the Twyla is in fact the black one. Then Twyla asks if Roberta "...married a Chinaman?" (3548). I'd actually never heard anyone in the white community use this phrase before. I honestly thought it was the name of a restaurant for the longest time in high school until someone explained to me that it's just something that black people tend to call all Chinese people and their businesses. It's a racist term and something I'd never really heard until I got to a diverse high school and heard someone outside of my race say. When they talk about "black and white" in the next few pages the girls really make no kind of distinction whom is which and I think that's because truly they each are both. The story ends with Maggie and I think if there is a race to these girls that Maggie is the determining factor. Both girls attribute Maggie to being like their mother, because Twyla doesn't see Maggie as black and Roberta does that made me think that maybe I was right from the beginning, maybe the girls saw Maggie's race as being their mothers race, as being their mother and as being their race. That's the only real thing I can think that would solidly explain a clear race but I honestly don't think we're supposed to. I don't think Toni Morrison want's us to define them to a race because it defeats the purpose. 

~How do we "read" race in society? What difference does race make and how? Are class issues ultimately as divisive as racial issues?

Race is "read" in society through stereotypes. I went to an extremely diverse high school. And there are things I noticed that taught be how little the color of your skin really means in the real scope of things. Race can make an initial opinion in someone's mind about you if they attribute a stereotype to your character before ever having talked to you but those can be immediately dispelled through a conversation and close attention. African American's are not the only people in this country that fail/drop out of school, sag their pants and belong to gangs. To think that is ignorant. I truly believe that class issues is a much more relevant way to determine issues in our society. Single mothers are in every single race and poverty doesn't have a color. But when people look at these classes you will find much more commonalities, even between a "black ghetto thug" and a "white-trash redneck" because I know that people run a spectrum and to lap everyone into one side of the pool creates more confusion than anything. I think if we dealt more with class issues than race issues we'd have less problems as a society and people that really needed the help would get it and the segregation in our country would end. Sometimes we have to stop talking about the difference between black and white and teach our children equality instead because we're all just American's but for some reason in this country we always feel the need to attach a race or color to everything. We don't have a president, we have a black president. Michael Brown wasn't shot by a cop he was shot by a white cop. We are obsessed with race and making sure people know the differences between them when really there aren't any beside what we chose to believe are differences worth separating us. I think focusing on class issues would put us in a better place as a whole but like I said that won't happen until race is no longer a box we have to check on a test or college application to distinguish who we are as a person when honestly it shouldn't matter. 


  1. Very well stated! I love how you said "I don't think we are suppose to be able to answer this." I had an extremely difficult time writing on this post for the very reasons you stated. It was very difficult to perceive what the girls' race was. I think Morrison's point was to point out our own bigotry and stereotypical beliefs. I absolutely loved this short story though. It really made me think!

  2. You made a really good point on how the girls see Maggie as the same race as their mother's; I never would have thought of that but it makes total sense! I think especially for Roberta to not notice it until later in life. I think their lack of mother/daughter affection towards their own mothers wasn't really apparent to them until they were parents themselves; they were different from the other girls because they weren't "real orphans". They didn't love or care about Maggie like they had remembered they had, and they couldn't feel for her when she was attacked like they should have. Similarly to their own moms, they couldn't see them the way most people see their moms - they couldn't love them the same way. It isn't until Roberta is an adult and sees truly what they lacked in their childhood, what love and guidance they were missing, and it manifests into what happened with Maggie - they couldn't make themselves act, but they wanted to, and not in a protective way like we all tell ourselves we will. They couldn't love her the same way they couldn't love their own mothers. What Roberta says "What the hell happened to Maggie?" I think she's really in essence saying "What the hell happened to us?"

  3. I agree that Morrison leaves this detail ambiguous purposefully to call attention to how race is constructed in society, as Kayla pointed out through stereotypes and narratives. I don't think though that Morrison would agree that "Sometimes we have to stop talking about the difference between black and white." Just because we don't talk about it doesn't make racism go away, and in many ways refusing to talk about how race is constructed and its effects obscures the problem, making it all that much harder a problem to solve...

  4. In answering this second question, it is also worth looking at Lorde's "The Master's Tools" and how ignoring race to focus on gender has worked for feminism...