Many remarkable narratives explore the affliction of racially oppressed people in granular detail. Saidiya Hartman’s written history of black women arriving in urban American cityscapes at the turn of the 20th century encapsulates marginalized people’s struggle to live. In her book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, she centralizes the stories of that population of black drifters, marking all of the obstacles of their journeys, while underscoring the marvel of their existence.
Pecola Breedlove, the main character in Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, finds it difficult to recognize her own beauty amid the presence of the white gaze, which defines the standard of beauty in opposition to her natural features. The protagonist in Tomi Adeyemi’s young-adult fantasy novel Children of Blood and Bone wields magic through her ability to conjure memories of her dead ancestors in order to fight off her people’s oppressors.
The author Alaa Al Aswany recalls a line from a Dostoevsky novel that emphasizes the function that literature may have in empathy-building. His novel The Automobile Club of Egypt is set in Cairo on the fault lines between the British-colonial presence and the exploited natives. In her analytical essay collection, Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong notes how the spectacle of racial trauma can provide voyeuristic pleasure for some.
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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What We’re Reading
Meaning, without the white gaze
“I survived the white gaze for Pecola [Breedlove], and [Toni] Morrison taught me how.”