In the passage from “Black Matter(s)”, Morrison presents an argument that early American literature is inseparably shaped and defined by the interactions of the African American population in our society, whether this influence is recognized or not. One of her points I found most fascinating was when Morrison described the dehumanization of slaves and negative generalizations made about African Americans as the projection of fears of white Americans, especially of the “terror of human freedom” while living in the New World. I had never considered that the negative characteristics used to subjugate the African American population were direct reflections of the anxieties of the perpetrators, but this theory makes sense in practice. Morrison’s proposition made me think of how, on a much smaller and flippant scale, bullies often pick on others because of their own insecurities, and their insults often reflect their specific fears and personal sensitivities. It is much easier to find a scapegoat to blame for one’s problems than to confront them, and the institution of slavery offered the white population a sense of control and power in the New World, amongst uncharted territory which they otherwise considered a lawless wilderness. I found Morrison’s use of the phrase, “terror of human freedom,” as the driving force behind this projection and enslavement another population, particularly interesting, as the concept of “freedom” is a recurring theme in many of our readings. If I could choose a panel with two other authors from texts we’ve read so far, I would choose Locke and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the author of “Questions of Multiculturalism”, because Locke’s optimistic view of human freedom and Spivak’s writing on the divisive effects of an us-versus-them mentality directly relate to Morrison’s ideas on freedom and race.
The three questions I would ask the panel are:
- If freedom by nature is a liberating force, how can it also be used to suppress others?
- When someone uses their freedom to infringe upon the freedoms of another, who is responsible for rectifying the situation?
- How does freedom have the power to both unify and divide?