Effects of White Supremacy on African American Writers

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White supremacy has been discussed widely by many authors. Most of the authors use their narrations to express their own way of life. The things they go through in life motivate them to develop novels. This is evident in the piece of literature done by African American authors; Alice Walker ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland’, Toni Morrison ‘playing in the Dark and Zora Neale Hurston ‘their eyes were Watching God’ and ‘How it feels to be colored me.’ Alice Walker is one of the world’s best writer who believes in equality for all. Alice Walker published her first novel in 1970. Toni Morrison is considered one of the best writers of black feminist and black body politics. She published her first novel ‘The Bluest Eye’ in 1970. Zora Neale is one of the strongest writers in the American history. She started her writing during the Harlem renaissance a time when the black activists and writers confronted the issue of segregation and racial discrimination. She has promoted black literature through her literally works in the 1930s and 40s. Zora Neale died in 1960.

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White supremacy is the superiority of the Native Americans (whites) over the African Americans people (black). The white people discriminate against the African Americans based on color and this has led to many African American authors to develop literature works to address the issue of white supremacy. Though the authors existed during different historical times, the issue of white supremacy is evident in their literally work. The African Americans originated from the slaves and that is why the Native Americans view them as inferior and poor. The issue of racism and white supremacy is discussed in wide in these novels. This is an indication of the effects of white supremacy on the American African authors.

The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker

Alice Walker uses a black family of three people (the Copeland family) to express the history of white supremacy over three generations of Grange, Brownfield, and Ruth. The Copeland family is affected and destroyed by the issue of male dominance. Though the black people hate white supremacy, they extend the same in their families. According to Alice, in order for societal change to be achieved, personal change must take place first. “I believe in change, change personal, and change in society”. Alice Walker uses her novel ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland’ to portray white supremacy in the life of the black Americans. Through her literally work, Walker expresses the racism culture that is dominant in the Southern. Alice Walker being an African American uses the novel to show the reality of life faced by the black people in a society dominated by the white people and the effects of white supremacy on family life. Due to white supremacy, black men used to dominate their wives and families as a way of expressing their position in the family. The inferior position black men received from the white people made them to find a way of expressing their manhood and superiority. Through Walker’s words “In my immediate family too there was violence. It’s roots seemed always to be embedded in my father’s need to dominate my mother and their children and in her resistance, verbal and physical, to such domination”, the effects of white supremacy are evident.

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Alice Walker was brought up in a rural town in Georgia. The white dominated town exposed Walker to the discrimination of the white people. In her piece, she expresses her feelings towards white supremacy and the discrimination facilitated by the white people. “I hated it, generally. The hard work in the fields, the shabby houses, the evil greedy men who worked my father to death and almost broke the courage of that strong woman, my mother”. Granger Copeland the title character is a victim of white supremacy. His inferior position commissioned by the white people prevents him from assuming full responsibility as a husband or a father. Influence of the white race domination destroys Grangers family and he breaks off with his wife. The way the white people treated the black people was inhuman. Walker’s hatred towards hard work is because it was an act of slavery. The white people suppressed the black people by making them to work hard in the fields just as the slaves used to do. The white men were greedy because they wanted all the good things for themselves while the black people were left poor.

Walker stopped practicing the religion in which she was brought up in because she felt it was a form of slavery imposed by the whites. “As a college student I come to reject the Christianity of my parents and it took me years to realize that though they had been force-fed a white man’s palliative, in the form of religion, they had made it into something at once simple and noble”. Walker’s rejection of her traditions is an indication of the effects of white supremacy on her life. She wanted to disengage herself from any form of control by the white people. Walker uses Granger the title character to show that positive transformation can be attributed by other elements other than religion. Her characters in the novel are transformed by their experiences of love. Granger undergoes positive transformation when he moved to the North; he becomes a “reborn man” and acquires “total triumph over life failures”.

Alice Walker in her novel ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland’ portrays the dominancy of the masculinity over feminist. This is evident when Brownfield son of Granger describes her mother (Margret) as overly submissive to her husband (Granger). “His mother was like their dog in some ways, she didn’t have a thing to say that did not in some ways show her submission to his father”. Just as the white people dominate over the black people, the black men are dominant over their wives. Though Brownfield hated his father’s behaviors of suppressing his mother, when he got married he followed the same suit. He tried to suppress his wife so that he can have power in the family. Walker uses her characters in the novel to express the struggle of women to flee from men supremacy. The black people try to copy the way of life of the white by dominating over their wives in order to have power.

There are critics that though Walker is a black woman brought up in a white dominated society, she does not fully criticize white supremacy. She claims that the pain and struggle against white supremacy and male dominance is a good way to grow oneself. According to the novel, the resistance of black women to society victimization and the dominancy of men is a way of growth and development of women freedom. Alice Walker uses a character ‘Ruth’ to express the transition and transformation of black women in the society. Margaret, Granger wife who was always submissive is destroyed by the behaviors of her husband. She abandons her submissive nature and starts to play the game of her husband by turning to other men. Her diversion from her previous way of life destroys her marriage and her life by leading to her death. Walker’s uses Margaret to show the consequences of the black people trying to abandon their identity and copying the white people. This is an indication of the feelings of Walker toward white supremacy. Through the death of Margaret due to her guilt, Walker expresses Margaret regret of abandoning her identity. Though the black people were perceived as inferiors, they were willing to fight for their identity and respect in the society.

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Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison in her novel ‘The playing dark” focuses on the importance of black population in the American literature and language. She outlines the role of the American literature in suppressing the black population. “Traditional, canonical American literature is free of, uninformed, and unshaped by the four –hundred-year –old presence of, first, African and then African Americans in the United States”. According to Morrison, no American literature is without an Africanist presence. “I want to suggest that the core concerns-autonomy, authority, newness and difference, absolute power-not only become the major themes and presumptions of American literature, but that each one is made possible by, shaped by, activated by a complex awareness and employment of a constituted Africanism. It was this Africanism, deployed as rawness and savagery that provided the staging ground and arena for the elaboration of the quintessential American identity”. Therefore, it is not possible for the American identity of ‘whiteness’ to exist without the presence of the black people. Presence of the black population in American has developed the identity of the Native Americans in terms of power and supremacy. She compares the presence of black population as “the structure that transparently (and invisibly) permits the ordered life it contains to exist in the larger world”. The American literature is a response to the presence of African Americans in an American dominated society. “There seems to be a more or less tacit agreement among literary scholars that because American literature has been clearly the preserve of white male views, genius, and power are without relationship to and removed from the overwhelming presence of black people in the United States.” The ‘white’ identity is derived from comparison with the black people. Morrison defines white identity as the absence of the blackness. Therefore, there is no white/ American identity without mention of the black people.

According to Morrison, the American literature and language is a form of racial discrimination and white supremacy. “Readers of virtually all of American fiction have been positioned as white”. Morrison farther argues that the American literature uses the Africanism presence to structure and position the white supremacy. “What became transparent were the self-evident ways that Americans choose to talk about themselves through and within a sometimes allegorical, sometimes metaphorical, but always choked representation of an Africanist presence”. The American literature and language is dominated by the white, the African American authors are not given an equal chance to express themselves as the white authors. The racial discrimination and white supremacy was created by the white writers by creating an imaginary Africanist persona. Writers use language to communicate their feelings thoughts and expectations in the society. “It rises from what I know about the ways writers transform aspects of their social grounding into aspects of language, and the ways they tell other stories, fight secret wars, limn out all sorts of debates blanketed in their text.” Therefore, all the writers should be given an equal standing for audience.

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Morrison expresses the racial discrimination that the black authors face in a society dominated by the white people. The white people have created a perception that they are heroes and therefore the white authors are treated as superior over the black authors.  White supremacy does not only affect the lives of the inferior group but also the superior group. In the process of dominating over the black people, the white people acquired a dominance culture that drove them to change their view on their role in the world. The American literature is characterized by the willingness to exert power in order to be seen as powerful nation. Their dominance over the black people made them to have greed for power and dominance over the world. She asserts the importance of the black population in the American society. She refers to the black population as a community that is unsettled. “the very manner by which American literature distinguishes itself as a coherent entity exists because of this unsettled and unsettling population”. According to Morrison, the white supremacy is made possible by the black people. If the black people did not exist, the white people would have no comparison grounds. Therefore, the black population has contributed a lot to the history of the Americans.

Morrison discussion on the origin and development of Americans identity and the contribution of the black people in structuring the identity is an indication of the effects of white supremacy on African American authors. White supremacy has stolen the place of the black population in the history, development and growth of America. According to Morrison, writers are used as perpetuators of racial discrimination. Despite availability of white supremacy in the American language, Morrison also points out white supremacy on female writers. In a male dominated field, female writers are suppressed by the male writers. She uses an example of a woman (Stowe) who is a writer and her plight to use the language to pass her message. In her pursuit to use her own language to communicate, Stowe is regarded as a “sentimental” writer.

Similarities and differences in the pieces of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Zora Neale

The three writers’ Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Zora Neale have used their literally work to bring the black literature to the spotlight. The three authors have a common theme of white supremacy and racial discrimination in the American society. White supremacy, racial discrimination and male dominancy are aspects that feature in the literature works discussed in this essay. Though Zora Neale lived at different historical times as compared to both Morrison and Walker, she was faced with the same challenges faced by the writers in the late 19th century. Zora lived during the Harlem renaissance. This is a historical time when art was born.

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Zora received a lot of criticism during her time when she published “Their Eyes Were Watching God’ because of her choice of language. During the Harlem renaissance, not many pieces had been written on white supremacy and racial discrimination. Despite little literature in this field, she did not shy away from expressing her feelings and thoughts about white supremacy. Zora was a black woman and she brought to light her plight as a black woman in a society dominated by white people. Morrison faced this same situation when she challenged the identity of the American identity through her work in ‘The playing dark”. Though a lot of literature had been written on issues of white supremacy and racial discrimination in the late 19th century and early 20th century, very few literature had been written on language and literature as a form of discrimination. Though the authors existed in different historical times, they face the same challenges due to their language and creativity. Their racial identity is also a factor that causes their literally work to be criticized.

The Harlem renaissance was a historical stage in the early 20th century. It is considered a time when the African American received cultural freedom. It is during the same time that white supremacy was legally restored in the South by use of the Jim Crow laws. Therefore, it was a critical time for the literature of the African American. It was during this time that Zora Neale wrote the novel “Their eyes were watching God”. The novel is inspired by her experiences in the late and mid-20th century. While Zora Neale literary work is motivated by the events of early 20th century, Morrison and Walker literally works are inspired and motivated by the events of the late 20th century. The late 20s century was a time of the rise of an independent black culture identity. The things the Harlem renaissance fought for were being achieved during the late 20s century. Though these authors lived in different historical times, they were facing almost similar situations of cultural crisis and racial discrimination.

In their literally work, Zora, Walker and Morrison do not openly/directly express the issue of white supremacy. They use their language, argument and literature critic to bring out the aspect of white supremacy. They use their life experience to develop their literally work. Being black women who lived in white dominated society their experienced racial discrimination and white supremacy directly.

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Zora Neale and Walker express white supremacy as a way of life that has some benefits. In her work, Walker describes that the struggles posed by white supremacy and male dominance has helped women to grow and develop hence achieving self -freedom. This is evident in the life Margaret who decided to abandon her old self that made her a slave of her husband. Zora on the other hand in her narrative “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, she states that she will not be bothered by slavery and she will just continue with her life. This two literally viewpoints indicates an indirect way of approaching white supremacy. This is because they are using elements that portray the existence and presence of white supremacy.

Zora explains that she only considers her racial status when she is surrounded by a majority of the whites. According to Zora, the issue of racial discrimination exists when there is a majority group and a minority group. In a situation whereby only one racial group exists, the issue of racial discrimination cannot prevail. This is a similar view point of Morrison who explains that the identity of the Americans is structured on the presence of the black population. If there is no element to compare with, then the element of Black and White people is not applicable. The presence of black people led to the development of the American identity of ‘whiteness’. Due to the comparison of the white and the black, the factor of white supremacy is developed.

Both Zora and Walker use characters to express the issue of male dominancy. In ‘‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland’, there is evidence of male dominance. Walker uses Granger to show the effects of white supremacy on the life of the black population. Due to being classified as inferior by the white people, men tried to show their superiority and manhood by dominating and suppressing their wives. In “Their eyes were watching God”, Zora uses Starks to express male dominancy. In both novels, the black men have been influenced by the white supremacy by copying their way of life.

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Zora and Walker use black characters to express their points on white supremacy and racial discrimination. Morrison uses the cultures and behaviors of the whites to expose the issue of white supremacy. Walker uses the family of Grange Copeland to show the effects of white supremacy in the life of the African Americans. As a black woman, she uses the family to portray her own experience in life. Zora in the novel ‘How It Feels to Be Colored Me’ uses her own personal life to express the effects of white supremacy in the lives of the black people. In ‘Their eyes were watching God’, Zora uses Stark to express the effects of white supremacy on the lives of the black people. Unlike the other character who uses family life to expose the issue of white supremacy, Morrison uses language. Morrison uses the American language as an indicator of presence of white supremacy. Morrison analyzes and critics literally work done by famous authors and identify the presence of Africanism in the American literature. Though the black people are considered as ‘others’ and not part of the American history, Morrison states the contributions of the black people in the structuring of the American history.

Conclusion

The Americans have faced many critics due to their nature and culture on racial discrimination. White supremacy is the notion that the white people are better than the black people are. It is the suppression of the black people so that the American can possess power over them. The white people deem the black people as inferior and a ‘lesser’ being than themselves. Due to white supremacy, the African American authors have portrayed and discussed their experiences in a community dominated by the white people. The white people regard themselves as powerful and able while the black people are inferior and poor. The black people are denied the basic needs of survival so that they remain poor and under the power of the white people. Due to these victimizations and challenges, Zora, Morrison and Walker have published novels that outline the issue of white supremacy in their lives. The three African American writers use language to disclose the things that happen in the society.

White supremacy has been discussed widely in the American literature. White supremacy has been facilitated and promoted by people due to their greed of power and respect. The Native American suppressed the African Americans so that they can have a superior identity. Despite the long history and criticism of white supremacy, it still exists in the American society. As evidenced by the three authors, white supremacy is not static. Due to the criticism posed by the writers about white supremacy, there is a change in how the white treat and perceive the black people. White supremacy and racial discrimination is decreasing.

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Did you like this sample?
  1. Busia, A. (2007). The Artist Impulse of Toni of Toni Morrison’s shorter works. The Cambridge Companion to Toni Morrison. Ed Justin Tally. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Hurston, Z. (2009). Their Eyes were Watching God. HarperCollins.
  3. Hurston, Z. (2015). How it Feels to be Colored Me. American Roots
  4. Husain, M. (2002). Developig an Academiv Analysis of Toni Morrison’s Book ‘Playing in the Dark.
  5. Kolchin, P. (2002). Whiteness Studies: The New History of Race in America. The Journal of American History.
  6. Lewis Amanda. (2004). What Group? Studying White and Whiteness in the Era of Color –Blindness. Sociological Theory.
  7. Morrison, T. (1993). Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Vintage
  8. Walker, A. (2003). The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Mariner Books
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