Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” provides a unique experience of understanding how confusing and complex the topic of race is. In the story, there are two main characters – Twyla and Roberta. As identified in the story, they belong to different races, and allegedly one of them is Afro-American, while the other one is Caucasian-American. However, even with the most thorough reading into the story, it is impossible to be certain about which character is which. The story provides an insight into how artificial the concept of race is, and any attempt to categorize the girls into certain racial categories is associated with certain stereotypes related to race. This helps readers identify their own racial bias and learn about possible perceived injustices in American society.
Cultural and racial biases have been in existence for long periods. The biases are witnessed in almost all sectors of our societies. They are witnessed in our schools, our justice system, and our healthcare system, among other institutions. In spite of concerted efforts to eliminate these biases, they still exist among us. In the story, the girls first meet each other in the orphans’ shelter, where they spend nearly four months (Morrison 1431). After the shelter, girls encounter each other four more times throughout life in different circumstances and stages of life. Yet, neither of the circumstances and paths that they have had in life identify their race.
When two girls have grown up and married, they meet each other and share their life stories. Here, readers find out that they have become separated by class. While Twyla has married a firefighter and belongs to a lower-income class, Roberta has married an IBM executive that was rich and even had two servants (Morrison and Lessing). This socioeconomic division may suggest to readers that Twyla is African-American since black people are usually underprivileged and struggle financially. However, it is entirely possible that Roberta, who married an IBM executive, is also Afro-American.
Another noteworthy encounter happens later when Twyla sees Roberta advocating against the forceful integration of one of the schools into busing. Busing means that the children of a certain race are transferred to a different school – a practice that was common in the United States that wanted to achieve racial segregation. Two women begin to argue, and it is logical to assume that Roberta is African American because her child could be subjected to transferring, but Twyla’s child was transferred too, so the argument does not make sense. Women continued arguing because the black and the whites were not in a position to engage in a coherent discussion without counterarguments. The whites were always ready to oppose the views of the blacks in regard to race. Roberta calls Twyla a bigot and claims that she kicked an old black lady Maggie when they were children (Morrison 1438). Yet again, both of the girls kicked her, so it is impossible to understand the race of the characters.
Hence, Toni Morrison shows how problematic determining one’s race individually becomes when readers are deprived of the description of the physical appearance of the characters. Hence, guessing the race based on the actions and beliefs of the person is a practice that resembles racial profiling and represents the issues in the country. In the United States, racism stands out as a sophisticated dilemma that has affected the country for many centuries. Racial profiling can be termed as the act of targeting or suspecting people considering observed group characteristics instead of taking an individual perspective.
Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” 1983.The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Robert S. Levine, shorter 9th ed., vol. II, W.W. Norton, 2017, pp. 1429-42.