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The Color of a Mother's Pain
“With that skin, there was no point in being tough or sassy, even when you were right. Not in a world where you could be sent to a juvenile lockup for talking back or fighting in school, a world where you’d be the last one hired and the first one fired. She didn’t know any of that or how her black skin would scare white people or make them laugh and try to trick her.” (Toni Morrison, from Sweetness as published in The New Yorker)
This predicament allows Morrison to examine the often controversial subject of intra-racial color prejudice among African Americans. Some have theorized that such prejudice has its roots in the internalization of negative images projected by American Whites during slavery––and through mass media in the decades that followed–– onto African Americans. It further intensified into a form of self-hatred frequently reinforced by stereotypes proliferated throughout what passed for popular American culture in the 1900s.
Others contend it is a completely different species of neuroses formed from the triple pressures of social, economic, and political oppression. Either way, intra-racial color prejudice represents yet one more facet of the bizarre negative psychological complexities generated by obsessions with notions of racial superiority in contrast to principles of human diversity.
A Framework for Millennials
The day after Morrison’s appearance on the late night talk show, readers born long after the publication of her first novel, The Bluest Eye in 1970, and many born not-so-long afterwards, took to social media to express how much they had enjoyed watching her. Many also, however, confessed that they had never read any of her books.
Anyone in need of incentive to get started reading Morrison might consider that, as nearly as anyone can tell her works have been translated into nearly two dozen languages, is taught in schools around the world, and has sold in huge quantities for which there are no precise figures. That kind of achievement––even without mentioning such honors as the Pulitzer Prize, France’s Legion of Honour Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom–– is its own greatest endorsement.