Haunting History

It’s difficult to do without feeling guilty, even if you personally had nothing to do with it.  It does seem that “Whites” have to take the initiative to dismantle systemic racism before any kind of fairness can settle on the world.  Toni Morrison is a great example of why that’s so important.  Beloved is perhaps her best-known work.  Although it involves a ghost it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a haunted story.  Black experience has been one of enforced poverty, after the emancipation proclamation—much like the American Indian experience.  Morrison represents this in a non-accusatory way, but she indicates in her story how the pain and mistreatment persists.  Her work is more important now than ever.  White supremacists are controlling the narrative in much of the country although they are the minority.  They need to read this book.

There will be spoilers here, if you’re even later coming to Beloved than I am.  Sethe was a slave.  The novel is set just after manumission, but she escaped before that.  She had four children and when she was sexually assaulted she realized this could happen to her children and she decided to spare them that fate.  Although she was stopped before she could kill all four, her first daughter, Beloved, was her victim.  This story is about what happens when Beloved returns to live with Sethe and her remaining daughter.  It is a haunting story.  No “boos” or jump startles, it sets up a sad atmosphere of a woman falling apart because of guilt.  Guilt for an event that would’ve never happened if she’d been treated like a human being.

Apart from the schoolteacher and his cohort, the whites in the story are kindly to Sethe.  Her “owner” was a slaveholder who gave his “possessions” respect.  She was saved from hanging after the death of Beloved by a local white man who understood what slavery might do to a person’s mind.  Even so, these kind people think of Blacks as servants rather than as people in their own right.  It’s difficult to read books like this.  That’s one of the reasons that it’s important to do so.  There is a lot to analyze here, much to reflect over.  If we put books like this on reading lists instead of banning them, it would help to bring understanding and sympathy rather than hatred and fear.  The future only improves when we admit our past errors and move to heal the scars we continue to inflict.

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