For my first blog post, I want to answer the question Dr. McCoy presented to us on Wednesday after watching Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery. The question was, “Given what you have seen so far, how does the video cross check with what you have read in A Mercy?” The film discusses the slow transition from impermanent indentured servitude of both blacks and whites to a violent colony-wide institution based in severe racism. In A Mercy, Morrison also describes this transition, but quite differently. While the video explains this process historically and as happening over the course of centuries, Morrison represents it instead in the interaction between a tradesman, Jacob Vaark, and a tobacco planter, D’Ortega.
In the beginning of the second chapter of A Mercy, Jacob Vaark describes a battle that occurred several years prior involving freedmen, slaves, and indentured servants who had rebelled against members of an increased social class. The rebels lost, and resultantly there arose “a thicket of new laws authorizing chaos in defense of order,” (11). These harsh new laws affected only black people, which “separated and protected all whites from all others forever,” (12). This separation between whites and blacks that was forcibly established is highlighted in Africans in America as well. For a planter’s profit to thrive, obedient slaves were necessary. Thus, rebellions were suppressed by instilling fear in the hearts of slaves. The video describes slaves as being both human beings and objects of profit, and elaborates on how those two aspects cannot be compromised. The solution for the white man was to “suppress origins of common humanity for the sake of making profit,” (50:00). Therefore, practices such as whipping and other severe punishment became a social norm. Morrison successfully describes the transition to increasingly harsher treatment of blacks by examining how white people forcibly separated themselves from people of other races.
On a similar note, the interview between Toni Morrison and Angela Davis that Dr. McCoy attached in her initial blog post, elaborates on the common behavior of humans to make clear distinctions between one group of people and another group of people. By doing this, it becomes easy to discriminate, punish, and harm those labeled as “others.” In the interview the women are specifically discussing prisoners, but the concept applies to all situations in which you have Society vs. Any Smaller Group of People. Morrison says, “It’s very easy to block off these so-called criminals, and they are away from us, they are not with us. We don’t even have to be tolerant, because they are over there,” (28:40). I think that Morrison is trying to remind readers of this concept in the beginning of A Mercy. She does so by discussing the laws that were created to separate whites from blacks but she continues to show this human behavior in the interaction between Jacob Vaark and D’Ortega. Jacob states that flesh is not his commodity (25) and upholds reluctance to accept slaves as D’Ortega’s debt payment, but in the end he does not refuse. Flesh ultimately becomes his commodity because he has placed black people in a separate and distinct category. Morrison forces the reader to recognize that the institution of slavery grew (and became easier for originally opposed people to accept) because the definition between “white” and “non-white” became more and more pronounced with time until eventually, to the white man, there existed no visible similarities.