Graduate student to ‘unmatter’ theories of race

Roberto Hodge, Multicultural Editor

An English graduate student will critically analyze and disseminate theories from Toni Morrison’s novel “A Mercy” for her colloquium at 3 p.m. Monday in Room 3732 of Coleman Hall.

Terri Coleman, who is an avid fan of the author’s work, said Morrison’s novel is about a racial theory experiment where Morrison has characters who represent different ethnicities such as African-American, Caucasian and Native American.

“A Mercy” is set in the late 1600s United States before the existence of race as social construct as is present today. The characters in the novel all range in identities from African-American to Native American.

Morrison ambiguously describes some of the characters, which is how she makes it difficult to place any specific race on the characters, Coleman said.

Coleman said she read comments from those who have reviewed or read Morrison’s novel.

She said based upon the description for the character Sorrow, who is described as having “hair of wool,” some reviewers and critics have said Sorrow is African-American, while others viewed the character as biracial.

This is a form of what is known as “resistance text.”

Coleman said her presentation also tackles “resistance text,” which is a term coined by Doris Sommer in which anything written by minorities often explains a character’s race subtly.

“(There are) ways for minority writers to keep majority audiences and readers in their place,” Coleman said.

Because African-Americans usually straddle the lines of two cultures between African-American society and Caucasian society, many understand these theories of resistance text and unmattering race.

Unmattering race is how racial minorities can be who they are without dealing with racism and dealing with others’ privileges.

However, the challenge is how Caucasians can use the information and apply it to their lives, Coleman said.

Coleman said by looking at multiple viewpoints—even if it may be uncomfortable or difficult to hear—those who are Caucasian could think about and understand how minorities are used in the media and look at it critically.

“Are they writing in a way that reinforces racist structures and makes race matter in a problematic way?” Coleman said.

Eastern’s English department is connecting the event with the National Council of Teachers of English’s National African-American Read-In, which is an initiative to showcase literacy dealing with African-Americans.


Roberto Hodge can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].