In preparation for a (failed) buddy read of Paradise with a friend from #bookstagram, I started reading Beloved by Toni Morrison. I read on Wikipedia that Paradise is the final part of a trilogy that includes Beloved and Jazz. They aren’t a trilogy in the traditional sense, but they are a representation of a Danteques trilogy of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
Beloved is definitely an illustration of Hell.
I had read Beloved before, but it was when I was in high school and too young and dumb to really appreciate the artistry that Mama Morrison brought into this world. I understood what was happening, but I didn’t make the connections to the broader commentary of how Black people fit in America.
Beloved goes back and forth into time to illustrate the traumatic nature of slavery. You can’t expect people who have been through all of that and just be ok. There is no way. Even Denver, who was technically born free, was touched by the lasting effects of slavery.
Beloved touches on so many different themes, from trauma, to the revocation of Black masculinity, to the complexities of black motherhood, to “good” white people vs. “bad” white people. How can it be that a book written decades ago about a time over a century ago be so relevant to 2020.
One passage in particular stood out to me:
“White people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood…But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle white folks planted in them…. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.”
The saying goes “Hurt people hurt people”, but what is it about a group of people so systematically obsessed with trying to maintain dominance that they become the very savages they claim to want to rescue.
Humans are not so different from one another; we are all capable of good and evil. Even good and evil can be subjective, depending on the perspective. Hate, and love, can drive people to commits horrors unto other people.
I don’t want not one person to tell me slavery wasn’t that bad for Black people or justifying how good it was for the economy. Slavery, in the case of this story, literally haunted black people. Even if the original owners of Sweet Home were supposedly benevolent masters who treated their slaves like men. It still drove a man to have butter, including the clabber, on his face; kept an iron bit in the mouth of another man; grew a choke cherry tree on the back of a woman; caused a baby to drink the breast milk of her mother mixed with the blood of her sister.
And we still have no formal apology from a country who could do all of these things to other humans. I mean, how to you make reparations for a people who still haven’t quite gotten out of Hell?