Racial Inequality in Jazz

Although Vera Louise’s silence of Golden Gray’s biracial identity can be interpreted as an action done out of her love towards him, her decision to remain quiet over his black heritage served as a window to the discrimination black people faced during the twentieth century. By staying silent Vera Louise did not only protect her son from slavery, but she also prevented the possibility of her son from being viewed inferior and being stripped from the rights of the superior race. Moreover, the fact that she remained silent for eighteen years (143) can be interpreted in two ways: it can be seen as her attempt to keep her son hanging on to the illusion that he’s a full-blood Caucasian or it can be viewed as her attempt to convince herself that her son is not biracial, but is rather the superior race. Regardless of the interpretations stated previously, her desire to make Golden Gray’s white half dominate his black half evoked a notion that the Caucasian race was more respected. However, her silence was not the only thing that prevented him from being demoted from his status as a free, Caucasian man; his physical attributes that strongly mimicked European characteristics masked the other half of his race that was considered inferior during his time. By having “a head swollen of fat champagne-colored curls” (148 – 149) and “creamy skin” (168) Golden Gray’s race as a white person overshadowed his black race, thus preventing Vera Louise from abandoning him at the Catholic Foundling Hospital (148). Subsequently, Vera Louise’s action of keeping Golden Gray only because he exhibited Caucasian features further implied the racial inequality during that time; if Golden Gray portrayed black characteristics, his mother would have abandoned him in the hospital for keeping him would put her (and her son) to shame in the eyes of the society she lived in. However, her decision to keep Golden Gray solely because he manifested white features, can be inferred as Morrison’s attempt to provide a window to the racial injustice evident during that time; it revealed the twentieth century belief within her society that Caucasian features were favored greater than the physical characteristics of other ethnicities. Not abandoning her son if he were to display attributes of the subordinate race would make known that she had a relationship with someone of black ethnicity; consequently, that would reduce the respect Vera Louise attained from her position in the society. If she were to keep her son had he been born appearing more black than white, then her action would collide with her society’s distaste of interracial relationships.

Evidence of this social norm was supported by the response Vera Louise’s parents had towards their daughter after their discovery of her affair with Hunter (141). Had her lover been of white descent, the parents would have married her off to him right away regardless of how furious they were of the situation; instead, they exiled her from their home as Hunter was of black descent and interracial marriage was not a commonly accepted idea during that period. By banishing her from their home, it can be inferred that Vera Louise’s action unsettled them for it disrupted the twentieth century social norms they abided by. This unsettledness the parents may have experienced can be interpreted as their unfamiliarity to this new idea of interracial relationships Vera Louise unwillingly introduced to them. Since the idea appeared extremely controversial to them, it challenged the values that had been fixed so firmly in their minds by their society; their daughter’s conduct conflicted with their own ideals for her—for her to remain chaste until a specific time and that she was expected to have a same race relationship—as her incompliance to the social norms blurred the racial inequality that was strongly prominent in her era.

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