Racism is defined as the discrimination, prejudice, or negative view of an individual, society, or a given group of people against an individual or a given group based on their ethnic or racial differences. Toni Morrisons Sula’s argument is evident in her writing about the African American life in the suburbs, and there is a clear depiction of racism arising from the rich whites who deprive the blacks of their rights, such as the right to independence and security. Besides, the blacks are also denied their rights to equal treatment, entry and exit of the state, education, trade, and freedom to embrace religion and express opinions.
Morrison begins by opposing the white culture for diminishing the vibrant Africa-American culture in Medallion city. Then, she gives a vivid description of the bottom and how it used to be a palace of its own and was full of the black, and perhaps the blacks would be seen playing banjos and laughing along with black women by the rent collectors (Sharma 61). However, as time went by, things changed unfavorably on the black people’s side due to racism and discrimination.
In the city of Medallion, the blacks face many challenges from being restricted to the bottom, which is ironic as per the promise of the wealthy whites who promised them the land on the bottom. The land at the bottom was regarded as the most fertile and relaxed next to the Ohio River, which provided flourishing conditions for survival. However, the wealthy white Americans failed to offer their promise to the blacks who lived at the bottom. Instead, they offered them the bottomland, which was uphill and was composed of sliding soil that washed away all the seeds and made planting a backbreaking chore; besides, wind lingered throughout the winter. The whites settled in the real bottomland, which was fertile and was watered by the river Ohio; therefore, it flourished well.
After being released from the hospital, Shadrack walks out of the hospital Stumbling and sweating, he walks to the west and suddenly bursts into tears without any idea of his past language and tribe. He begins to scream, having no idea where he is; as per the narration, it is said that “they” take him to jail. Shadrack was a Christian figure who devoted himself to the betterment of his country; instead of aiding him, the country authorities jailed him. It is evident that even Shadrack does not know those referred to as “they.” According to the narration, “they” forecast the racist government officials and institutions who use black men as scapegoats to achieve their interests in addition to mistreating the same black men.
Shadrack returned home, and people assumed that he was insane. He lives in his grandfather’s shack and sells fish to earn a living on the bottom; as much as he appears obsessed, he doesn’t attack or hurt anyone. On the 3rd of January, Shadrack declares a National Suicide Day by walking down the street as he rings a bell. The following year he does the same, which becomes accepted as part of life celebration at the bottom over time. This is a shred of evidence that there is an acceptance of racism by subjecting him to self-hatred. The gradual acceptance of the yearly celebration initiated by Shadrack symbolizes that the bottom society composed of the blacks has regarded themselves as the second-class members of the country governed by the racists.
The incident of Helene and Nel on the train. While on a train board, Helene and Nel unexpectedly go to the “Whites only” carbine instead of the “Colored” one. As they try to pass through, the white conductor quarrels with them and calls them “gal,” making Helene frightened. The scene shows that in 1920, a black woman was worthless before the whites, and the whites had the power to frustrate and humiliate the blacks, especially the women depicting a transparent form of racism. The labeling of the trains as the “colored only” and the “whites only” symbolized a form of racism as the blacks were considered as the colored and the whites as the white. Therefore, any form of interaction was not allowed between the two parties.
Eva, a resident “namer” at the bottom, her primary duty was to name newborn children who happened to have named Tar Baby. The character was a heavy drinker who came from the bottom due to depression, and he was a pale-skinned and handsome boy who had a beautiful voice and could sing in church. As much as he could not settle his rent arrears, he had a beautiful voice and could sing in the church. The traits of Tar Baby were similar to those of the pale-colored skin though he was one of the bottom residents. However, he was classified as white because he could sing and had a beautiful voice. This depicts racism as most whites were considered to have good characters, and the blacks were said to be of bad traits. Eva, who lost one of her legs and currently sits on a wagon to allow her to move around, imprisoning her own body, still does not appear to be caged as she can still command to be respected by the blacks who live on the bottom.
The narrator of Sula gives a vivid description, and Nel portrays some racism and how they come to meet. It noted that Sula and Nel had distant mothers and inarticulate fathers. They both attended Garfield primary school and had many things in common. Physically Nel was light-skinned and lived in a tidy house organized by the mother Helene, while Sula, described as dark brown-skinned, lived in a disorganized home. Being that Sula had dark brown skin, he faced frustrations as much as they have a lot of similarities with Nel. In addition, the Irish men would come to the Medallion to bully the black children into proving that they were white.
Tar Baby was arrested for being drunk in public and jailed. Ajax later went to the local jail to convince the authority to let Tar Baby go. On the other hand, the jailers treated Tar Baby as a white man. They declined the plea and hence demanded that no whites should live among the blacks. This act was a show that the whites and blacks were of different classes and not allowed to coexist. The bottom was happy when they heard about the news concerning Sula’s death, and felt relieved. However, Sula’s presence was advantageous to them as it united them. This shows how racist the bottom community could sometimes be.
Over time things turned, and the hills became accommodative to the white because of the races who lived there. The blacks, therefore, switched their location and also lost their sense of community. The bottom became virtual as the blacks moved closer to the river Ohio within the valley where previously they were not allowed to reach by the whites. It’s therefore evident that due to the revolution, the blacks lost their sense of society at the bottom.
Upon Sula’s death, the builders of the New River Road eventually accept black men as laborers, which brings a lot of joy to the people of the bottom. Besides, renovation is also announced at the nursing home where Eva lives. This comes as a blessing to the bottom of society. The New River Road project cost the bottom their rights to healthcare and made them pay a lot of expenditure through an extra collection of rents by the people in business and the failure of doctors coming to the bottom. The project was used to exploit the blacks as it was given as the excuse for every exploitation made by the whites.
There were many changes in 1965 when the blacks started getting better-paying jobs in the Medallion, gaining more wealth and power of their own. But, on the other hand, Nel, who had grown old by then, was still illusioned by the old days when beautiful boys would hang around her. This depicts that the blacks, as much as they had developed, still considered themselves second-class individuals and never considered the white man’s innovation.
The blacks in Medallion city faced different racism during their lifetime at the bottom. This included colorism, institutional, educational, symbolic, cultural, xenophobia, and racism based on skin color. Racism was deployed on them by the whites who lived in the valley by depriving them of their most fundamental rights, creating many uncertainties within the society, like the death of Sula and the arrest of Shadrack and Tar Baby.
Sharma, Sucharita. “Forms of Emotions and Experiences of Motherhood in Toni Morrison’s Sula.” Literary Voice: 61.