Throughout the course of this semester in African American Literature, our class has read a number of novels such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Native Son by Richard Wright. Throughout these novels, the evidence of a systematic oppression against non-white races is endless, as it creates a sense of inferiority among these races that is still seen lingering in today’s society.
This sense of inferiority is evident in all three novels mentioned above and it creates underlying effects that damage characters, communities, and society as a whole.
In The Bluest Eye, there are hardly any white characters and certainly none of importance. Nonetheless, even with the absence of such a key factor during this time period, the white race still seems to play a central part of the way of life for other races, and specifically that of African-Americans. Usually, in historical novels there is a clear connection between the “superior” and “inferior” race.
However, due to the lack of diversity in The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison shows the dominance of the whites through different microaggressions between characters.
This is portrayed most effectively through the eyes of Claudia Macteer, a 9-year-old girl that is the narrator for most of the novel. Throughout the novel, she describes the world around her, showing its’ hardships, beauties, and realities of what life was like for rural African-Americans in the early 20th Century. Throughout The Bluest Eye African-Americans match themselves with other African-Americans based on a multitude of criteria that revolves around what white society expects/accepts.
Things such as physical features, economic class, education, and skin tone are all features that cause turmoil between the society present in The Bluest Eye.
This is effectively shown in the scene where a girl, Maureen Peal, moves to Claudia’s town and immediately causes ripples throughout Claudia’s school due to her being a pretty, rich, and well kept African-American girl. As the book lacks important white characters, Maureen, although she is an African-American, is a character who represents the superiority of whites and is a perfect example of what the community truly values. In this scene, Pecola, a passive friend of Claudia, is being bullied by a group of boys when Maureen comes to break the situation up. After breaking it up, she invites the girls to ice cream in what they believe is a friendly move.
This, however, turns into Maureen asking Pecola what it was like to see her father naked, the real reason she helped Pecola to begin with. This eventually leads to the girls falling out and Maureen calling them ugly in order to reassert her beauty and dominance. Maureen then runs away from the girls and this leaves Claudia and her sister, Frieda, questioning themselves and their inferiority to Maureen, and eventually accepting society’s judgement of them. Claudia says: We were lesser, nicer, brighter, but still lesser.
Dolls we could destroy, but we could not destroy the honey voices of parents and aunts, the obedience in the eyes of our peers, the slippery light in the eyes of our teachers when they encountered the Maureen Peals of the world. What was the secret? What did we lack? Why was it important? And so what? (Morrison 74).
This part of the scene represents on a small-scale the large-scale problem within the community and within the society of valuing “whiteness”, a symbol of purity and perfection in this novel that attributes to the oppression of African-Americans by brainwashing them into thinking that there is only one singular way in which a person can attain self-value or self-worth. Even though events such as this were commonplace 80 years ago, they are still seen to a certain degree in America today. Systematic oppression today starts with education or the lack thereof, and the inability of the American Society as a whole to demand change, to demand a better future for this country, for all races. This is perfectly portrayed in The Hate U Give, which was recently published in 2017.
The novel shows two worlds, the poor black neighborhood and the rich white prep-school, of an African-American girl, Starr Carter. Starr is stuck between these two worlds and her inability to truly identify with either one is something that takes its’ toll on her. The constant feeling of having to live up to the standards of her parents and to the standards of the white community where she goes to school suddenly changes when her childhood friend, Khalil, is tragically killed by a police officer.
She then takes a stand and decides to start protesting and demanding change. The story specifically is in reaction to police brutality but the take away from it should be something so much bigger. A key part of this novel that directly ties in with systematic oppression in today’s society is when Maverick, Starr’s father, is having a conversation with her about Tupac’s music and how the lyrics are still relevant to this day. The conversation eventually turns into them discussing Khalil.
Starr says: Khalil said it’s about what society feeds us youth and how it comes back and bites them later,’ I said. ‘I think it’s about more than youth. I think it’s about us, period.’ Us who?’ he asks. ‘Black people, minorities, poor people. Everybody at the bottom in society.’ ‘The oppressed,’ says Daddy. ‘Yeah We’re the ones who get the short end of the stick, but we’re the ones they fear the most. That’s why the government targeted the Black Panthers, right? Because they were scared of the Panthers?’ ‘Uh-huh,’ Daddy says….(Thomas 168).
Starr takes this comment from her dad and relates it to the song they had just listened to by Tupac, “The Hate U Give Infants F**** Everybody,” and realizes the power in the movement of her community in retaliation to Khalil’s death. This goes along with The Bluest Eye in that throughout the novel it is evident that African-Americans do get “the short stick” and although it has improved with time, the same trend continues today.
The scene continues when Maverick says: I remember what Khalil said-He got tired of choosing between lights and food. ‘They need money,’ I said. ‘And they don’t have a lot of other ways to get it.’ ‘Right. Lack of opportunities,’ Daddy says. ‘Corporate America doesn’t bring jobs to our communities, and they damn sure ain’t quick to hire us. Then, s***, even if you do have a high school diploma, so many of the schools in our neighborhoods don’t prepare us enough. That’s why when your momma talked about sending you and your brothers to Williamson, I agreed.
Our schools don’t get the resources to equip you like a good school around here…. He said (Thomas 169). This statement from Maverick sums up the unbalanced society in America on a personal level that many people can relate to. Not only does he give the example of Khalil having to choose between keeping the lights on or being able to feed himself and his struggling family, but also admits that Starr has a much brighter future due to her attending a predominantly white school instead of her local black high school. If the United States expects to continue to grow as a Nation, a united Nation, then the blame for the unemployment rate, graduation rate, and incarceration rate of African-Americans should be put on no one except the government and the manner in which it has handled this national crisis for decades.
In contrast to The Hate U Give, the song and music video of This is America by Childish Gambino portrays the issues with America in a much more aggressive way. In this video that has just under half a billion views on Youtube, Childish Gambino thrashes the state of American society through his lyrics and visuals. However, instead of lashing out at white people, Gambino blames African-Americans for continuously falling into the same trap of killing each other and more specifically he blames modern hip-hop artists for openly promoting this killing in their music.
In the article, What It Means When Childish Gambino Says ‘This Is America’ written by Frank Guan, Guan takes an in-depth look at the video and describes it by saying: Jubilant black culture abounds not only in resistance to the lethal violence directed at its maker’s but also in complicity with it: when Glover stages the murder of a black guitarist and a black church choir, it’s not a white policeman pulling the trigger, but Glover himself, and after each killing he resumes his dancing with the same livewire energy and his rapping with the same assured flow, as if nothing had happened. If black culture affirms itself, accurately, as a testament to its makers’ capacity for grace, invention, and vigor in the face of an inhuman social reality, Glover’s own affirmation contains a shadowy admission that such makers cultivate their own agony in the act of representation.
In this statement, Guan says that Gambino is trying to prove a point to all rappers by him killing innocent people and then continuing to rap as if nothing happened. This is relevant to modern society as it touches upon an important issue which is if African-Americans do not stand up for themselves then, who will? Gambino is trying to pose a bigger question which is, at what point do African-Americans stop killing each other and realize that the true enemy is not themselves but instead the same enemy who their relatives and ancestors have been battling for so many years.
Guan goes on to say that, “The incongruousness of Glover, raised middle-class and an NYU graduate, bragging about his Mexican drug supplier and threatening to have you gunned down, is intentional (Guan).” Since Glover came from a fine background, he was exposed to many different opportunities that most African-Americans are not able to have and these opportunities led him to realize the imbalance in the systematic construction of the U.S. that, frankly, many people do not want to see changed. In relation to The Bluest Eye, Glover’s message speaks volumes to the trend of the African-American community over these past one hundred years. Obviously, the quality of life for many, if not all African-Americans has improved along with the improvement and growth of America.
However, even in today’s modern era, one could compare the message from The Bluest Eye and the message from Childish Gambino and ask the question “have things truly changed?” In The Bluest Eye, the systematic oppression of African-Americans is obviously blinding the community which causes problems and damages relationships in an unnecessary way. In his video, Gambino calls for African-Americans to stand up, wake up, and demand a better life for themselves and to not be blinded by the oppressiveness that surrounds them.
During the ’60s the world saw African-Americans stand up for themselves and saw the amount of change that it brought. It may take a similar movement, like the one seen in The Hate U Give, to effectively change the system that an increasing amount of people are starting to realize the damage it is doing to the U.S.A. As America becomes more and more politically divided, the movement that is being called for is quickly gaining momentum.
In the article titled: How America’s identity politics went from inclusion to division, written by Amy Chua, Chua states: For the first time in US history, white Americans are faced with the prospect of becoming a minority in their “own country.” While many in our multicultural cities may well celebrate the “browning of America” as a welcome step away from “white supremacy”, it’s safe to say that large numbers of American whites are more anxious about this phenomenon, whether they admit it or not… According to Chua, the movement by minorities, specifically African-Americans, is already taking over.
However, with the growing numbers of African-Americans, is the disappearance of systematic oppression against African-Americans inevitable? According to William H. Frey, in his article: The US will become minority white in 2045, Census Projects, Frey says that white Americans will make up less than 50% of the population by 2045. However, Frey predicts that even with the decline of white Americans, African-Americans will only see a percentage increase of the current 12.3% to a mere 13.1%. Even with such a small percentage change in the African-American population, the decrease in the white population could be what changes the U.S. for good.
This could lead to the systematic changes that have been necessary for so many years and to return upon the values of which this country was born: that every man is equal. In conclusion, the systematic oppression against African-Americans seen in The Bluest Eye is still a major problem for the U.S.. The Hate U Give is a perfect example of the current state of this problem and the struggle that it is causing for so many people, not just African-Americans. Calls for change are coming from everywhere and perhaps one of the most effective, Childish Gambino’s This is America, is what will bring the much-needed attention to this issue. If Americans are to grow as one, the first step is to be educated about what is happening and how to improve it. The novels and video mentioned can serve as examples for all about what the state of the country was and is. The future is yet to be written but change must occur sooner rather than later.