“You could be inside, living in your own house for years, and still, men with or without badges but always with guns could force you, your family, your neighbors to pack up and move–with or without shoes” (Morrison 9).
When I first began reading Home by Toni Morrison, I was intrigued by this quote immediately. This quote is from chapter 2 of the novel, where Frank Money is planning his escape from the mental institution, but unfortunately he lacks a pair of shoes and is afraid that his barefeet will give him away and indicate a lack of purpose. The quote is profound–it encompasses the tribulations of many minority groups (but specifically African Americans) in a sentence. The line suggests that even men without government power can forcefully remove black men, like Frank, from their homes with or without guns simply because they’re white. What struck me most about the quote and what led me to remember it even when I was close to the end of the novel, was the part of the quote that didn’t surprise me: the dehumanization aspect. These white men with guns force these people to leave with or without shoes, a typically essential article of clothing. Often times nakedness is associated with vulnerability, weakness, and many times a lack of respect. Without shoes, these people are seen as devoid of purpose. They are seen as people who don’t need shoes because they aren’t going anywhere important. They are being dehumanized.
I took a class in high school called Holocaust, Genocide and Breaking Down the Walls of Hate. The class was an elective and catered to a heterogeneous group of students–it was composed of students in different grade levels, students from AP classes and regents classes alike. The class essentially aimed to teach students how to recognize genocide, and one of these ways was to understand how genocide is effectively implemented. One of these essential tools is dehumanization. In order to convince oneself to hate & harm one’s enemy and feel the least remorse possible is to treat this person or group of people as an animal or as less than human.
Frank, who has been oppressed and dehumanized throughout his whole life, is, however, still guilty of these same crimes. Hate is a learned behavior, and Frank has learned it (unfortunately) too well. Towards the end of the novel, as he recounts an experience during the war, the readers come to understand that Frank shoots a young Korean girl when she reaches for his crotch after realizing she was caught looking through the garbage in search of food. Frank, feeling tempted by her, decides to shoot her (133). “How could I let her live after she took me down to a place I didn’t know was in me?” (136). Frank sees the Korean girl as the temptation. He sees her as a reflection of the most disgusting parts of himself–the parts he doesn’t like; he doesn’t see her as human. Instead of stopping himself, he stops her, essentially blaming her for an act to which he could have disagreed and stopped. While Frank Money is clearly the product of a system of racism and oppression, I think there are two questions that beg to be answered: 1) doesn’t Frank killing and dehumanizing this girl make him just as cruel as the people and systems who have hurt him? And finally, 2) how can this cycle of hate be eradicated or at least improved?