What are some examples of racist acts in Paradise?

Paradise is a book that highlights the long-term effects of racist acts. In particular, the act of “The Disallowing” shows the profound impact that racism can have on generations. “The Disallowing” refers to when the nine families who founded Haven were excluded from settling in the town of Fairly. The narrator explains that “Everything anybody wanted to know about the citizens of Haven or Ruby lay in the ramifications of that one rebuff.”

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Toni Morrison’s Paradise is a book that examines the intersection between gender and racial identity. Even though all of the residents of the town of Ruby are Black, the way racism and racist histories impact the town highlights the pervading influence of racism through generations.

One of the most prominent racist acts discussed in the book is the event called “The Disallowing.” The reason that the town of Ruby exists is that the original inhabitants were not allowed in a town called Fairly because of the color of their skin. The founders were made up of a group of nine black families who moved west in the 1870s in the hopes of settling in an all-Black town. Fairly was an all-Black town where the inhabitants had lighter skin than these nine families. Morrison’s choice to call this town Fairly highlights the racism that can occur based on how light one’s shade of skin is.

The original nine families who were not allowed in Fairly were called the “8-rock” families because of how dark their skin was. The narrator explains that the shade of their skin matched that of coal in “deep levels” of coal mines. Through this label, Morrison expands on the concept of racism based on skin tone, not just skin color. This name also highlights how society projects ideologies of race onto people’s identities.

Through the book, Morrison brings attention to the generational influence of racism. For example, descendants of the original “8-rock” families were involved in the massacre at the Convent. Their involvement shows how racist ideologies of hatred and violence have been internalized. Consider how the narrator describes the influence of The Disallowing on the nine families and their descendants:

Afterwards the people were no longer nine families and some more. They became a tight band of wayfarers bound by the enormity of what had happened to them. Their horror of whites was convulsive but abstract. They saved the clarity of their hatred for the men who had insulted them in ways too confounding for language: first by excluding them, then by offering them staples to exist in that very exclusion. Everything anybody wanted to know about the citizens of Haven or Ruby lay in the ramifications of that one rebut out of many. But the ramifications of those ramifications were another story.

Here, the narrator explains that The Disallowing was such a profound act of hatred that it is impossible to capture its influence with words. This also shows how racist acts were at the root of the families’ future actions and the actions of their descendents.

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