Race and gender, entangled

An interesting personal essay on how Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye led the author to the realization that race and gender are deeply intertwined.

The semester after I encountered The Bluest Eye, a guest speaker visited another literature class. Because he was invited by my favorite professor, it never occurred to me to view this guest with anything other than awe. He dazzled us with readings from his own work and discussion of literary traditions more generally. Toward the end of the class period, he asked whether we could name the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Someone offered, “Toni Morrison.”  The guest confirmed the answer and asked if we could list past winners. A string of men’s names followed. I had heard of most of them, but not all. Soon, familiarity with the authors proved irrelevant because the purpose of the exercise became clear. The guest declared, “Toni Morrison won this year’s Nobel prize. You know, it’s a good time to be Black and a woman.”

Suddenly, I felt several sets of eyes on me. Students’ eyes. The guest speaker was too caught up in himself to look in my direction. I was uncomfortable and avoiding the glances that came my way, but I remember looking at my favorite professor, who was watching his guest with pride. The presentation delighted him. 

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