Unit 1 Assignment 3 by Lydia Catterall

In Toni Morrison’s “Black Matters,” one of the most attention-grabbing ideas is that the ideals which formed the “American” identity were only so prevalent due to the struggle of black people throughout American history. Before unpacking this, Morrison emphasizes that the image of an “American” is almost always associated with whiteness. She then discusses the pillars of this American identity: freedom and individuality. It seems as though these ideas are pillars because they drew settlers into the New World, away from the binding classism in Europe. However, Morrison posits that the real reason behind the pervasiveness of these ideals was slaves. At the heart of this free, democratic society were slaves who had neither freedom nor individuality. The freedom of the early Americans became so apparent through complete control over other people. This concept of ideals becoming apparent through the presence of those who lack them is interesting because it seems to be applicable to any societal differences throughout history. For instance, men have likely been aware of their own dominance because they viewed women around them having less power in society. The wealthy have likely felt their own importance because they observed the voices of those in lower classes being heard less. Finally, white people have always felt a sense of freedom not just because of the privileges their skin color has granted them, but because they witnessed many of those same privileges being withheld from people of color. In any society, the identities of the privileged are formed partly through the presence of marginalized groups around them. 

Authors: Toni Morrison, Arthur Brooks, Amin Maalouf

  1. To what extent is one’s identity a product of his/her own creation?
  2. How achievable or unachievable is a world in which race does not play a role in one’s identity?
  3. To whom does the responsibility of overcoming social biases fall?

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