Drawing Parallels through Oral Histories

I found the fact that Morrison includes Patricia as a kind of oral historian in Paradise to be jarring considering the fact that I worked at a museum which created a project that recorded the histories of people who are of mixed descent. I wanted to do some work addressing the parallels between Patricia and the work that Brooklyn Historical Society did using the blog post that I wrote about Lacy Shwartz, a mixed-race woman whose Jewish family never told her that she was half black.

Shwartz, whose story is documented in her short documentary, Little White Lie, talked about the sentiments she garnered as a biracial woman. She said that being mixed was a category of being black, “When you are defaulted into the black student union, even though you have black pigment in your skin, there is also a white privilege that you have to let go of. I’m aware of it and I definitely certainly embody it.” Shwartz talked about how as a light-skinned black woman, she at times had a “passing privilege,” which she had to let go of. The same idea is built upon in Morrison’s Paradise.

Patricia, Morrison’s character, begins the project to document the lineages of families in Ruby, but she is troubled because the women won’t give her the information that she needs to create the family trees. A little later, Patricia begins to realize that there is even more missing information. Take the following quote into consideration: “Who were these women who, like her mother, had only one name? Celeste, Olive, Sorrow, Ivlin, Pansy. Who were these women with generalized last names? Brown, Smith, Rivers, Stone, Jones. Women whose identity rested on the men they married—if marriage applied: a Morgan, a Flood, a Blackhorse, a Poole, a Fleetwood. Dovey had let her have the Morgan Bible for weeks, but it was the twenty minutes she spent looking at the Blackhorse Bible that convinced her that a new species of tree would be needed to go further, to record accurately the relationships among the fifteen families of Ruby, their ancestors in Haven and, further back, in Mississippi and Louisiana?” (187-88). This “new species of tree” that Patricia is thinking about in this moment is that mixed identity that she discusses later in the chapter, “Oh, they knew there was a difference in the minds of whites, but it had not struck them before that it was of consequence, serious consequence, to Negroes themselves. Serious enough that their daughters would be shunned as brides; their sons chosen last; that colored men would be embarrassed to be seen socially with their sisters. The sign of racial purity they had taken for granted had become a stain,” (194). It’s interesting to juxtapose Shwartz’s story to Patricia’s take on being light-skinned, but I think that engaging with these conversations critically cycles back to stories of blacks and whites mixing, of rape, and of love. Of miscegenation.

I initially wanted to connect what I’m writing about above to the essay Dr. McCoy shared with us through email, “Lose Your Kin” by Christina Sharpe, but I wasn’t able to find it again. It seems as though it’s been taken down. I wanted to draw upon the essay’s last line, “Refuse reconciliation to ongoing brutality. Refuse to feast on the corpse of others. Rend the fabric of the kinship narrative. Imagine otherwise. Remake the world. Some of us have never had any other choice,” which highlights what both Patricia and the Brooklyn Historical Society are trying to do: rewrite a history that invigorates a sense of belonging. In one of my first blog posts on the site, I argued that the goal to all of this, Morrison’s trilogy, the work that we are doing engaging these dialogues on race and history, brings history that has been hidden for so long to the forefront. Let us “remake the world.” Especially now that so many of our already marginalized stories are at the forefront of being forgotten, swept under the rug. These stories are what many of us have never had any other choice of telling. They are the stories that haunt us.

I’m still confused about what I’ve discussed above, but I think this is what my thought project will vector off of. Please lend your thoughts. Right now, I find safety close to Morrison’s words. How are we going to get half of our country to read them along with us?


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