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Recitatif: A Cultural/historical Approach to Racial Differences and Assumptions

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"Recitatif": A Cultural/Historical Approach to Racial differences and Assumptions

At the drop of the beat, Kristal was on the dance floor hitting every move and not missing a count. Her friend Mary was standing near trying to catch on to the dance moves that Kristal was putting out, but Mary couldn't bring her limbs to move with such fluidity as exhibited by Kristal. Mary was totally off beat and despite the banging hip hop that she liked to listen to, she refused to be further humiliated by her lack of rhythm. As observers stood closely watching, they questioned the validity of the scenario. Mary was not exhibiting assumed behavior. She did not have rhythm and to their surprise, she was black. Based off stereotypical assumptions that white individuals lack rhythm, many who read the first few sentences would have assumed that Kristal was black and Mary was white; however, Mary is a black girl who simply does not have rhythm. The same idea of making stereotyped racial assumptions is shown in Toni Morrison's "Recitatif". In this text Morrison depicts the relationship of the two main characters, Twyla and Roberta, over a time period of 20 years. The series of settings, which takes place during extreme racial tension, is key to understanding the text's events. By keeping Twyla and Roberta's racial identity unknown, and through the various instances which change the two individuals' relationship from childhood to adulthood, Morrison paints the notion of the racial controversies and the many stereotypes that existed amongst this time; further calling attention to the necessity for the deconstruction of racial assumptions and internal prejudices that still exist today.

Morrison uses the various interactions amongst the two main characters, at St. Bonaventures, the orphanage at which they lived, to convey to the reader the racial strain of this time. Aligned with the cultural setting of the 50s, and events such as The Great Migration, the reader knows that predominantly the racial struggle existed between whites and blacks. Specifically in Northern cities like New York, where the story takes place, tension was increased during this time. Twyla must room with Roberta at St. Bonny's and she brings attention to the racial differences by expressing her unhappiness about being "stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race" (Morrison 139). Twyla further expresses the oddness of rooming with Roberta by expressing her mother's disgusts with the opposite race and the fact "that they never washed their hair and smelled funny" (139). Individuals of the black race, often place improper hygiene stereotypes on the white race; however, this same stereotype can be placed on blacks by whites. In knowing that whites did not like to be around blacks and blacks were not allowed to be around whites, Twyla and Roberta rooming together further makes it difficult for the reader to figure out which race the characters belong to. Morrison trumps the racial rules that blacks and whites are not supposed to be together, yet live together, forcing the reader to ignore the implications that could place Twyla and Roberta in certain race groups.

Racial tension of the 1950s is also exhibited when Twyla and Roberta's mothers come to visit. When Roberta's mother is introduced to Twyla and her mother, Mary, Roberta's mother does not greet them. Instead, according to Twyla, Roberta's mother "[looks] down at me and then [looks] down at Mary too. She didn't say anything, just [grabs] Roberta with her Bible-free hand and [steps] out of line, walking quickly to the rear of it" (142). Either Roberta's mother felt that she was too good for Twyla and her mother, a feeling associated with the white racial group of this time, or she could have been afraid to address them because she is black and she has no place in socially doing so. Regardless of which way the reader looks at the situation between Mary and Roberta's mother, it is still inaccurate to claim which race the characters belong to

Over the course of the text, there is an alteration in

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