By Georgia VanDerwater, Noah Taylor, Ryan Silverstein, Riley Dilger, Marissa Volk, Jose Romero, Kelly Edmond
In their book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century, William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen introduce common arguments against reparations being paid out to Black Americans by the United States government and then contextualize and refute them. One contributing factor to the authors’ call for reparations is white America’s tendency to diminish Black Americans to a single stereotype, quality or condition. They mention the impact stereotypes have, saying “In order for reparations to be adopted, white America must come to terms with its false beliefs about ‘Black Behavior’ and with the sanitized version of the nation’s history” (Darity & Mullen 8). This text reveals the intentional or unintentional reduction of Black Americans to single traits and stereotypes as a common excuse for opposition to reparations, and racism in America as a whole. This limitation to a single trait not only appears in this text, but in other course texts such as Zulus, Clay’s Ark, and Zone One.
In his novel Zulus, Percival Everrett continuously identifies his protagonist, Alice Achitophel, as being overweight, calling her “fat” (7), “massive” (9) and “enormous” (10) all in the first chapter. Alice and those around her continue to comment on her size and conventionally unattractive appearance, until it has mutated into the main core of her identity. It is this conception that prevents Alice from being sterilized, as she is believed too ugly and overweight to be pursued sexually. In Octavia Butler’s novel Clay’s Ark, the lives of the main characters are constantly boiled down to singular characteristics throughout the book in order to make their unjust treatment seem more fair by their kidnappers. Blake, one of these main characters, tries to avoid talking to Meda, one of the people who kidnapped his family. In response to this, Meda says “No, we’ll talk now. You’re our first doctor. We’ve wanted one for a long time” (Butler 39). By making the excuse that their group needed a doctor, Meda attempts to convince herself that her kidnapping was justified rather than acknowledge the family that she’s taken hostage. She does not see him as an individual, but a solution to her problem. In Colson Whitehead’s post-apocalyptic novel, Zone One, the main character Mark Spitz and the rest of his team are tasked with eliminating “skels,” the living dead remaining from a virus that wiped out New York civilization. By reducing the “skels” to a single aspect, such as haircut or job, the sweepers are able to kill them without feeling as guilty. Mark Spitz recalls a day when he stumbled upon “some brain-wiped wretch standing at the fry station of the big hamburger chain and had to shoot him on general principles. Out of the abundance of a life, to choose fry duty” (Whitehead 61). Reducing the skel to his previous occupation as “fry duty” made it easier for Mark Spitz to separate the skel from the rest of humanity.
As these books demonstrate, narrowing people down to a single quality is a tactic often used when discriminating against another person or group. In regards to this, Darity and Mullen illustrate the idea that the only solution to this sort of discrimination is for people to be informed and to endeavor to understand one another comprehensively. If white Americans subscribe to the stereotypes they have created about Black individuals, they will never even begin the process of healing the wounds created by slavery and Jim Crow. As pointed out in the section Criticisms and Responses, Frederick Douglass once said that slavery can never truly be made up for. However, by acknowledging and atoning the injustices inflicted on Black Americans through slavery and racism with reparations, Americans would be able to start working towards mending the wrongs and creating understanding of one another that is free of stereotypes.