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Madison DeLoach
Marie Lo
Race and Social Justice
November 11, 2015
Playing the Dark Reading Questions
What if each novel you read portrayed someone of your race as a broad based stereotype
and no more? As author Toni Morrison points out, for Black people it is not a hypothetical. She
self-examines literature from her own personal perspective to bring about these issues. Toni
Morrisons Playing in the Dark offers many valid points on what Africanism looks like in
literature, and the piece leaves many lingering thoughts on it as well.
Some main issues that Morrison brought to light in Playing the Dark have to do with the
way Black people are presented in literature. She uses well-known works such as Mark Twains
Huckleberry Finn to elaborate on how exactly White authors write about Black people. Morrison
states that with this comes a kind of misunderstanding of the black race by these white authors,
they often end up portraying Black inferiority of their characters in their works. She also brings
into account how these works both draw from and contribute to the ongoing issue if Africanism.
In Morrisons words Africanism is the () denotative and connotative blackness that African
peoples have come to signify () (Morrison 6). What she is saying is that the view of
Blackness has become so stigmatized and generalized that the misinformed prenotion of what
Blackness is to white people has simply become its own trope. Morrison concludes that with the
use of Africanism as well as an authors ability to portray Black characters, Black people will be
reduced to both vicious stereotypes and subtle hints through characterization of inferiority to the
white man.


Playing in the Dark opens the floodgates to many questions regarding race and literature.
For one, why do authors continue to use this trope in present day? While it is a film, one can not
help but wonder why one of the first Black central Netflix productions, Beast of No Nation, is of
the gritty and animalistic reality of civil war in Africa. One is then lead to question why Black
people are usually presented in these roles, and yet cannot be found in more fiction or even
fantasy-based works? Why is it that there is not one single black character in Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolken when there are creatures like Elves and Ogres? What explanation can they hold
to why there is absolutely no racial diversity? Why is it that the most popular works even
containing Blackness are often racially based stereotypes? My only thought to that is the
possibility that whites are so familiarized to Africanism that they do no question when it is used,
and that because Black people have so little representation they will read or watch something
with Africanism for just the plain fact that there are people that look like them in it.
To conclude, Toni Morrison writes a powerful piece that puts Africanism in literature
under a scrupulous eye. She brings up valid points like how white authors contribute to this
issue, as well as its deeply rooted origins in literature. She opens minds to so many questions
regarding the creation and use of black characters in literature, as well as most media. Ultimately
Africanism is still a very relevant occurrence in modern literature and the only way it can be
undone is to first recognize it.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York, NY:
Vintage n.d. Print

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