In Paradise by Toni Morrison , nine black families set out to create a utopia for black people tired of the persistent exclusion from American society due to the color of their skin. These families found a town for their own people in 1890. This town is, appropriately, called Haven....
In Paradise by Toni Morrison, nine black families set out to create a utopia for black people tired of the persistent exclusion from American society due to the color of their skin. These families found a town for their own people in 1890. This town is, appropriately, called Haven. Haven seems to thrive for several decades, but when the Morgan (one of the founding families) twins returns from WWII, they are struck by the rampant discrimination and colorism they witness in Haven. It unsettlingly mirrors the racism of white society: light-skinned people are preferred to dark-skinned people and are treated as such. Anti-black racism and dehumanization is internalized and perpetuated by people in Haven.
Because of the colorism they witness, the Morgan twins gather fifteen families and again decide to isolate themselves by creating a black utopia, safe from the outside world. In the new version of Haven, dark skin is to be celebrated. This town is named Ruby, after the Morgan sister who dies as a result of being refused medical care due to her dark complexion.
The town of Ruby follows through with its mission to honor darker skin. While darker-skinned people were the targets of colorism before, lighter-skinned people now become the excluded ones. In an eerie connection to the namesake of the town, this leads to the death of a light-skinned woman in childbirth because the men of Ruby refuse to seek medical help for her due to her complexion. Although Ruby was intended to be an idyllic place for those who were dehumanized by white society and light-skinned black folks, it ends up perpetuating the very thing it aimed to avoid and descending into violence and paranoia.
This violence and paranoia reach their climax when the men of Ruby decide to massacre a group of women whom they deem a threat to their way of life. The women live in the nearby Convent. Although not actually a convent, this former mansion run by nuns has become a sanctuary for women escaping troubled pasts. Much of the book surrounds these women and their lives, and their massacre proves to be Ruby's ultimate downfall. The men of Ruby have become so devoted to their hierarchies, exclusion of outsiders, and colorism that, in the end, they commit a horrific crime, thus losing the humanity they worked so hard to restore.
In Paradise, Morrison explores the ways in which black people have internalized systematic preferences for lighter skin, and residents of Ruby engage in prejudices based on skin color even without crossing racial lines. Before Haven/Ruby is established as a town, its founders are barred from other communities because dark complected "negroes" are unwanted there. The people of Haven, noticing pervasive social prejudices against former slaves, poorer black people and darker complected black people, see "a new separation": where once white prejudice against black people was the social norm, now light-skinned black people were engaging in prejudice against dark-skinned people.
In what appears to be a subversion of this norm, Ruby becomes a place where darker skin is celebrated and lighter skin is perceived as undesirable. Darker skinned people in Ruby are considered more eligible for marriage; people are described as marrying darker complected people to compensate for their own paler complexions, thereby raising their social station in Ruby. Morrison attributes the colorism in Ruby to a multi-generational legacy of internalized racial hatred, and conveys the idea that Ruby, though seemingly subverting colorism and internalized racism, was in fact mimicking the white race's subjugation of black people.