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About Blackness in US American Literature

"Playing in the Dark" is an essay which was written in 1992 by Toni Morrison.

The aim of this book is to show how blackness has been treated in US American Literature throughout the years. She defines her work "raises from what she knows about the ways writers transform aspects of their social grounding into aspects of language (.) and they know they do this".

The author understands that a nation's literature creates its cultural identity. And so, the United States Literature created a concept of what a US American is: a white man. Therefore, black people signified little or nothing in the imagination of white American writers. It seemed like black people were "something" apart from the American culture, as if they were aliens. White writers wrote for white readers and about white characters. In this way, a society was growing in a racialized atmosphere where whiteness and blackness even determined your seat in a bus.

The main characters in American Literature always were white people and they represented the nation's more positive values, like being brave, independent, smart. But, on the other hand, black characters, in case there were any, seemed just like third class characters in the plot, ignorant and illiterate beings, with childish perceptions of reality. White characters were like "adults" after black people's roles in novels. When Blackness appeared in a book, it worked as a decorative stereotype used just as a vehicle to define the goals of white people, using opposites to highlight whiteness and its qualities. For example, when the author wanted to show a white character as free, a black character was used to define the state of slavery.

In my own opinion, this essay makes clear the idea that whiteness is over blackness in US American literature, using extracts of novels that show the author's points.

Listen to Toni Morrison's lecture when she was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. It is an amazing speech, powerful and profound. 33 minutes. You can also read it.