Toni Morrison’s ‘The Origin of Others’ looks at the colour of skin and why race still matters

27 May, 2018 10:00 am IST
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There is something to be said about saying the obvious. Or in the case of Toni Morrison’s The Origin of Others, saying that which has become obvious over years of theoretical engagement with race, Otherness, and identity politics.

Following her novel, God Save the Child, Morrison eschews that which is unknown. In her 2017 non-fiction book, she speaks to an audience more than she writes to a reader, her words gleaned from her Norton Lectures delivered for Harvard University. She says that which is familiar and much read of, that Black slaves were raped by the likes of Thomas A. Thistlewood, a persistent diarist who recorded the location, time, and level of satisfaction for each of his assaults with astounding veracity; or that Black Americans were lynched, had their eyes gouged out while their attackers and murderers walked free after mere minutes of deliberation in court; or that a slave was beaten for breaking an already-cracked earthen pot which parted in her arms, beaten until her owner was too tired to swing the cow skin anymore.

There is merit in the obvious. Morrison’s remembrance and re-articulation of the brutal cautions us against forgetfulness. Obama-era Post-racial America was a mirage, her memory says, and we must remember that the policemen who walk free after killing unarmed Black Americans tell the story of a world frozen in loop since the mobs who walked free decades ago, redolent in pride after having lynched their Others.

It’s classic pedagogy, really. To repeat is to remember is what Morrison seems to believe. Violence against Black Americans today is the continuation of a tradition, not a strange sociological quandary. We would do well to remember that All Lives Matter, but Black Lives still don’t.

Shantam Goyal is a Writing Tutor at Ashoka University, and is also writing his M.Phil dissertation at the Department of English, University of Delhi.

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