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149 Postscript In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, the child Janie encounters race as a picture in which she does not recognize herself: “Ah wiz wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old. Wouldn’t have found it out then, but a man came long taking pictures. . . .” “So when we looked at de picture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left but a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark chile as me. So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’ “Everybody laughed, even Mr. Washburn. Miss Nellie . . . she pointed to de dark one and said, ‘Dat’s you Alphabet. Don’t you know yo’ ownself?’ “Dey all uster call me Alphabet ’cause so many people done named me different names. Ah looked at de picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and mah hair so Ah said: “Aw, aw! Ah’m colored!” “Den dey all laughed real hard. But before Ah seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just lak the rest.”1 1 Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Perennial Library ed.; New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 8–­ 9. 150 Postscript Even if Janie had not had much experience with mirrors, she would have undoubtedly noticed her arms and legs and their hue. So her shock does not come from seeing her body for the first time. Rather, it comes from seeing a representation of her body alongside other bodies. It comes from seeing herself as she is seen by others and recognizing for the first time the divide that separates her from her closest companions. Notably, she describes the girl in the image as “real dark,” although the rest of the novel emphasizes the lightness of Janie’s skin. Janie’s dismay at seeing herself as “colored” certainly owes something to the harsh strictures of the segregated South in which she lives. However, her rude awakening does not originate in a confrontation with Jim Crow in any of its formal or informal manifestations. It centers on something prior to that—­ being drawn into the regime of race. In that moment, it is not that being “colored” restricts her opportunity; it is that it restricts her identity. The social significance attributed to the features that constitute race suddenly and devastatingly imposes new limits on her sense of self and on her relationships. As this episode illustrates, race does not simply name a difference that always existed. Rather, it creates difference. For this reason, condemning Jim Crow for assigning different value to “white” and “colored” people is not sufficient to move beyond racism. Effective resistance requires confronting racism at its roots: the terms in which it conceives identity and the social structures through which it enacts that vision.2 Such resistance engages racism as a problem deriving from the typical ways in which identity is thought and lived out, not one confined to a few renegade people or institutions. When Genesis is allowed to question modern assumptions about identity, it provides ample resources for the transformation required to fully overcome racism. The book calls its readers into a vision of human community unconstrained by the categories that dominate modern thinking about identity. It situates humanity within a network of nurture that encompasses the entire cosmos, only then introducing Israel not as a people, but as a promise. In this way, the book prioritizes the identity that originates in the divine word and depends on an ongoing relationship with God. Those called into this new mode of belonging must forsake the social definition that had structured their former life, trading it for an alternative that will take shape only gradually. 2 Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (2nd ed.; New York: Routledge, 1994), 69. Postscript 151 In contrast to the rigidity of Eurocentric perspectives, Genesis depicts identity as fundamentally fluid. Encounter with God leads to a new social self, not a “spiritual” self that operates only within parameters established in the body at birth. The family tree of Genesis stands in sharp contrast to the modern emphasis on a (vertical or horizontal) social ladder. It is inclusive in ways that moderns struggle to comprehend, not only uniting all humanity as members of a single strain, but also linking...


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