No Pride in Prejudice

PrejudiceFor a country that’s supposedly a great democracy, the United States has a breathtaking amount of virulent prejudice in its past and present — making the country a great democracy mostly for (rich) white males.

This comes up often in U.S.-set novels — as it should, given that lots of fiction reflects real life.

As I post this just hours before the holiday celebrating the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I’ll first mention that I most recently came across a prejudicial U.S. in Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover. Part of that novel shows the grim reality of Japanese-Americans relocated to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor amid bogus hysteria about their supposed disloyalty to the U.S. — even as many of those rounded up had lived for years, and/or were born, in the States. An awful chapter in the otherwise fairly liberal FDR presidency, which didn’t intern German-Americans or Italian-Americans despite the U.S. also being at war with Germany and Italy. Because those citizens were white, of course.

Obviously, one of the original sins of U.S. prejudice, before and after the Revolutionary War, was the abysmal treatment of Native-Americans. Many novels have addressed that — with just two of them including Diane Glancy’s Pushing the Bear (which takes place during the late-1830s forced removal of the Cherokee from their land) and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (about white marauders slaughtering Native-Americans, among others, about a decade later).

The other original sin was the ghastly system of slavery, which lasted from 1619 (when Africans were first yanked over to the U.S.) until America’s 1861-started Civil War. The many novels addressing that — as well as racism in general, past and present — include Alex Haley’s Roots (partly about the author’s own enslaved ancestors), Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (which depicted miserable plantation life as well as the possibilities of escape to the North and Canada), Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain, Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books, etc., etc.

Of course, people of Hispanic descent have also faced discrimination in the U.S. Another Isabel Allende novel — Daughter of Fortune — has Latina and Latino characters (along with every other person of color) the target of harsh bias from whites in Gold Rush-era California. Low-income protagonist Connie Ramos in Marge Piercy’s sci-fi-ish novel Woman on the Edge of Time is also treated badly by white characters who stereotype her.

Then there’s bias against women, whether of color or white (think Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth); bias against LGBTQ people, whether of color or white (think Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle); bias against Jewish people (think Laura Z. Hobson’s Gentleman’s Agreement); and bias against impoverished whites (think John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath).

Trump’s motto is “Make America Great Again.” Great for whom? Most of us know the answer to that.

Some novels you’d like to name that include depictions of prejudice in the U.S.?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about a vicious campaign to oust a Board of Education member — is here.

53 thoughts on “No Pride in Prejudice

  1. And, of course, one of the most inspiring characters in all of American literature is the slave Jim in Twain’s “Huck Finn.” Twain purposefully reflected bigoted reality of the times by using the N word to describe Jim. Because of that, some schools and libraries have banned the book, which tells you everything you need to know about the ignorance and denseness of censors.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Bill! Yes, Huck is a VERY inspiring character (as is Jim) in a novel that says a huge amount about American racism. Few 19th-century books were as enlightened when it came to that subject despite the jarring use of the “N” word.

      Like

  2. Dave, I should also mention the book that I’ve just started reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. The protagonist is woken one night by the titular character who has found a dead body. Jasper doesn’t want to tell the authorities about the murder victim because he knows that he’ll be blamed. Not because there’s any real evidence (maybe some circumstantial) but because he’s aboriginal. The main character also has a Chinese friend who gets called some pretty repellent names. The book is advertised as an Australian To Kill a Mockingbird and I’m not sure that I’d agree with that, but of course, that’s another book that’s choc full of prejudice.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susan! “Jasper Jones” does sound interesting, and aboriginal Australians have certainly been the targets of enormous bias — and worse.

      In the U.S., Chinese immigrants were treated quite badly for decades and decades.

      And glad you mentioned “To Kill a Mockingbird” — one of the most famous novels with a strong prejudice theme!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, Gone With the Wind , by Margaret Mitchell, She had, for example, depicted her leading black characters as content with slavery, uninterested in freedom. They often seemed more like pets than people.
    Mitchell had words are insulting to today, The “good” black characters both loved and needed the whites.
    Though Mammy was one of the strongest characters in the novel, she could not manage Tara after the war without the guidance of her white masters. Her mind was too simple, not yet fully evolved, as readers could infer from a description of her as she looked at the once-grand plantation, her face “sad with the uncomprehending sadness of a monkey’s face.”  

    After Charlottesville and the Nazi marches aimed at keeping Confederate statues in public areas in 2017, a reappraisal of “Gone With the Wind” and its embrace of slavery as a happy institution has come into question.

    Still ,Margaret Mitchell would surely be taken aback. She was a feminist and very forward-looking woman who would hate what is now being made of her best-seller.

    Now trump brings all these back in our minds, why America which was supposted to be a melting pot of all races and religions has become so much racists ?

    Even today, Sikhs who are in this Country for generations and are known to be fighters are being killed for their turbans ?

    Nikki Haily is a Sikh , but suddenly she would do or say anything to be iastrumps sikekick !

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, bebe! Very well said, and a great/relevant mention of “Gone With the Wind”!

      Whether intentional or not on Margaret Mitchell’s part, “GWTW” is a thoroughly racist book — though an excellent novel in many other ways. As you allude to, no slave was happy — including the ones who were treated somewhat better than others. No freedom, no happiness. A shame that a feminist (by 1930s standards) had such a blind spot about race. Mitchell being from the South surely didn’t help, but of course there was also virulent racism among Northerners — including Northern writers.

      Nikki Haley? Yet another Republican sellout. 😦 “All in” for Trump even though she should know better.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this, bebe. Gone with the Wind is one of my favourite books. Set during the civil war, of course it’s going to include some racism. But I’ve never really thought of Margaret herself as being racist. This puts it all into a completely different light for me. Like you said, the blacks often come across more as pets than people, but for me, that kind of worked. They were well looked after pets, and I (very respectfully) disagree with Dave as I felt like they were happy. Uninterested in freedom, their simple needs were met, and quite often, the whites suffered much more from the war than the blacks did.

      And I guess that’s all fine and dandy as long as you assume that all black people are kind of dumb and don’t mind (or don’t notice) that they’re being treated as non human. I don’t know much about Margaret Mitchell, but reading the book, it feels to me that she had a genuine love for her black characters, but I’m suddenly wondering if she had any respect for their equality. Maybe this isn’t one of my favourite books after all…

      Liked by 3 people

      • Hi Susan, appreciate your comment and thinking process..
        No matter what I said GWTW is still one of my favorite book .

        What I understand Margaret Mitchell was born in a prominent family in Atlanta, Gorgia. in 1900 and was highly educated.
        But now during trump Presidency as we see and hear, racism is coming up more around the Country, as it was always there but the KKK are coming out of the woodworks and demonstrationg in front of our very eyes, openly and are so proud of themselves..

        As far as I am concerned I don`t use the term racist lightly, but so many are uninformed ?
        Don`t know.
        But for anyone no matter what their family background is, or which part of the Country or World they are from should figure out what is wrong.

        GWTW was written by Ms. Mitchell as she saw it around her, the way She writes about Blacks in America.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It isn’t a novel but Howard Zinn’s eye-opening “A people’s history of the United States” was the first book that popped into my mind after reading this article. What amazes me is that out of all of this hate such strong and invaluable literary traditions have come out of it. How inspiring it is to me that in spite of all of the hatred and brutal prejudice writers like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin not only managed to thrive, but became legends in their own right.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, nocitiestoburn19! Well said! I LOVE Howard Zinn’s book, which I read back in the 1980s. So refreshing to see history told from a different/wider perspective rather than from the perspective of the rich and/or the “winners.”

      And, yes, there are and have been many great writers who experienced and emerged from rampant prejudice in the U.S. — though not without a struggle, of course. Heck, James Baldwin lived in France for many years to escape American racism (and homophobia).

      Like

  5. Dave, I hope I don’t sound too broken record, but I must again mention Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. I’ve probably read more thought provoking and eye opening stories of racism, but something about Thomas’ characters had me loving every page of this unforgettable novel. I think what struck a chord most of all is the expectation and acceptance of racism. Like it’s something normal, something that makes sense. Starr Carter and her family get kind of caught between “knowing their place” in the world, and really wanting to change it.

    It kind of reminds me of a scene in an episode of Joss Whedon’s Angel. The local police have been turned into zombies (don’t you just hate when that happens?!) and it’s up to Angel’s team to figure out what’s going on. One of them comes up with a pretty dumb plan of trying to film these zombie cops harassing people, and the white girls asks how do you know you’ll be hassled? And the black guy says, “cause we’ll be the ones walking while black”. And then he has this kind of laugh that says how naïve can you be?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Susan! Totally fine to mention “The Hate U Give” again! In your enjoyable, analytical, wise comment.

      “The local police have been turned into zombies (don’t you just hate when that happens?!)” — HA HA HA 🙂

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  6. Most secrets and lies in my family were for self defence – I don’t blame any of them for lying to any employer, or about where they were born, and wonder about the cumulative damage – biologically, in any family, of so much rejection – for being Irish, for being Nigerian, for being Jewish.
    From their lifetimes of suffering and rejection , my life of comparative privilege – and need to learn more about
    their suffering. Thanks for all of this. .

    Cat.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your poignant comment, Cat! Yes, so many people had to/have to do a certain amount of identity-hiding to increase the chances of making it in a biased world — whether in the past or today.

      Like

  7. Thanks for this informative post on such an important day. I learned a great deal by reading “Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo,” by Zora Neale Hurston, which was based on her interviews with a person who had lived through abduction as a slave.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome, Becky! That sounds like a searing/memorable work by the great Zora Neale Hurston. I need to read some of her nonfiction one of these days.

      In historical terms, slavery in the U.S. was not THAT long ago. A number of us had great-grandparents who were alive before the American Civil War.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! One of MANY profound statements from MLK. Unfortunately, some people — including Trump and most Republicans in Congress — have only disdain for people who would try to react to hate with love. They find that weak and funny. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What I really appreciate about Americanah is Adichie’s observation of difference within black communities, both in America and Nigeria. There were also distinctions between American and non-American blacks. Novels which show groups of people as heterogeneous are important, because they dispel the stereotype that skin color means complete agreement on cultural issues. No group of people completely agree simply because they belong to the same race, religion, or country of origin. When one group of people assumes that people of another group all think alike, that too is prejudice. This is just one reason I love Louise Erdrich’s novels, especially the six books which deal with the history of the same families. She portrays Native Americans as contemporary people struggling with differences within their families and communities, and not as some monolithic society.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mary! Well said! After seeing your comment and Michelle’s comment, I need to read “Americanah” or another book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie! GREAT/important point about there being many cultural (and other) differences within any racial, ethnic, or other group.

      I’ve read one Louise Erdrich novel: “The Painted Drum.” I liked it a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Bebe here Dave, you always come up with the topic fitting to the current situation, when it needn’t have to be. It is sad what is happening to this Country.
    Tomorrow is Dr. Matin Luther King day, as we are remembering his enormous legacy with gratitude.
    I was remembering when Obama won the presidency one of our friend said, now perhaps with time this Country will truly become a melting pot with all races and religion living together.
    He could not be more wrong.
    Just think of the demagogue of a liar running and ruining the Country.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Bebe! The current situation unfortunately lends itself to many a blog post. And the juxtaposition of MLK and Trump is indeed jarring…the former always fought injustice, the latter is always creating and supporting injustice.

      Yes, when it came to racial prejudice in the U.S., Barack Obama’s welcome election didn’t change much. As you know, Trump and McConnell and millions of others were racists and remained racists. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Humanity has a great potential for extremes. We have the capacity for compassion and for hatred, something that has kept philosophers, psychologies and sociologists busy trying to figure it all out. I believe books allow us to see and experience a broader understanding of the human condition. But they are difficult books to read. Think of Huckleberry Finn “Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.” Mark Twain, to the Rape of Nanking: Almost all people have this potential for evil, which would be unleashed only under certain dangerous social circumstances.” Iris Chang. Dave – I really appreciate your theme posts and discussions that follow.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother! Eloquently said! You’re so right — humans are capable of the best and the worst. I guess my post today mostly focused on the latter. But novels — and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is one — of course often have elements of both. Huck becoming racially tolerant (for his time) was certainly a positive, and kind of the crux of Twain’s iconic novel, even as the book also had plenty of cruelty.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. The well known film “Best Years Of Our Lives” is based on a novella called “Glory For Me.”
    Dealt with stigma of coming back from WW2 with alcoholism,mental health issues, disabilities,financial problems, +. Was prescient in discussion of taboo subjects including assimilation after traumatic events,stigma of having to still be a leader in civilian life after PTSD which was not known or spoken about. Film ahead of its time,courageous in depictions of realities and how many looking at brave people who came back from war not understanding of their respective traumas in coping with resuming their lives on their respective home fronts.

    Liked by 2 people

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