TONI_MORRISON_TIME - Thursday, Dec. 02, 1993 On the Backs...

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1 Thursday, Dec. 02, 1993 On the Backs of Blacks By TONI MORRISON Toni Morrison is the 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Fresh from Ellis Island, Stavros gets a job shining shoes at Grand Central Terminal. It is the last scene of Elia Kazan's film America, America, the story of a young Greek's fierce determination to immigrate to America. Quickly, but as casually as an afterthought, a young black man, also a shoe shiner, enters and tries to solicit a customer. He is run off the screen -- "Get out of here! We're doing business here!" -- and silently disappears. This interloper into Stavros' workplace is crucial in the mix of signs that make up the movie's happy-ending immigrant story: a job, a straw hat, an infectious smile -- and a scorned black. It is the act of racial contempt that transforms this charming Greek into an entitled white. Without it, Stavros' future as an American is not at all assured. This is race talk, the explicit insertion into everyday life of racial signs and symbols that have no meaning other than pressing African Americans to the lowest level of the racial hierarchy. Popular culture, shaped by film, theater, advertising, the press, television and literature, is heavily engaged in race talk. It participates freely in this most enduring and efficient rite of passage into American culture: negative appraisals of the native-born black population. Only when the lesson of racial estrangement is learned is assimilation complete. Whatever the lived experience of immigrants with African Americans -- pleasant, beneficial or bruising -- the rhetorical experience renders blacks as noncitizens, already discredited outlaws. All immigrants fight for jobs and space, and who is there to fight but those who have
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This note was uploaded on 09/30/2010 for the course AFRICANA 014:201 taught by Professor Ramsamay during the Spring '10 term at Rutgers.

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TONI_MORRISON_TIME - Thursday, Dec. 02, 1993 On the Backs...

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