How does Paradise comment on African American cultural or social issues?

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In Paradise, Morrison deals with the fraught issue of colorism—prejudice on the basis of the shade of one's skin color—within African American culture.

The story is set in the small Oklahoma town of Ruby, which as originally established by African Americans turned away from a town of lighter-skin blacks. This takes place against the backdrop of white prejudice against black people in society as a whole and adds a further layer of complexity to understanding American racial politics.

The people of Ruby, then, are doubly discriminated against. This encourages them to develop a deep sense of solidarity in the face of such overwhelming prejudice, not just from white society but also from fellow African Americans. They have worked hard to build their own little Paradise in Oklahoma, insulated from "out there where every cluster of white men looked like a posse."

But this Paradise, like all Paradises, is inherently exclusionary. It is based as much on who doesn't as who does belong. With the social and economic disruption of 1960s America seeping into Ruby, the townsfolk start looking for scapegoats. They duly find them in the shape of five women practicing magic in a former convent.

Morrison hides the racial identities of the women in order to illustrate the point she's making about the exclusivity of Paradise. However Edenic human societies may claim to be, they are, in the final analysis, composed of fallible human beings, each with their own prejudices. And, as Morrison makes clear throughout the book, this applies as much to African Americans as to all other members of society.

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Toni Morrison’s novel shows the contradictions in black people’s efforts to follow distinctive paths in the face of cultural and social opposition based on race, skin color, and class. The author shows how these issues changed over about a seventy-year period, from the end of frontier expansion in the late nineteenth century through the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

Morrison creates a microcosm of American Plains life in different eras through the contrasting settings of Haven and Ruby, Oklahoma. The original residents of Haven have sought to create a sanctuary safe from the reach of racist whites. Over the years, however, a different kind of bias has insinuated itself: that of lighter-skinned black people who apply colorist prejudice against those with darker skin. Divisions among black people are also shown around the topic of education, as people debate the importance of learning about African heritage and the American blacks’ enslaved past.

One salient issue, which featured into the founding of Ruby, is medical racism. Ruby Morgan, who was black, had died because she was refused medical treatment. The town’s founders, her brothers, believe that having their own, equivalent institutions will protect other black people. This belief fits within ongoing disagreements over “separate but equal,” which are often portrayed as only white-imposed, and was struck down as a principle beginning in the 1950s.

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