Both Smith and Walker who write about the plight of black people and the feelings of inevitability and racism can invoke in Black people and in their lives. A significant difference between the poem and the short story is the generation and age of the individuals. Whereas Walker's short story is concerned with the racism and pain experienced by an elderly African-American woman in the post-civil rights era, Smith is concerned with a young woman in the same era. The elderly woman is in rural country and the young woman, as evidenced by Smith's reference to 'Motown' is in an urban setting. The disconnect both women feel from both their bodies and from their surroundings is the unifying thread that binds these two seemingly disparate stories. I am interested in exploring the theme of alienation from one's surroundings and from one's body that lie at the heart of the story and the poem. I begin by reviewing the literature on alienation and race before I discuss Smith and Walker's texts.
That there is no formal thing such as 'race' is common place knowledge (Smedley 698). However, since it has emerged as a tool of self-identification in communities of color and as a tool of creating and sustaining hierarchical relationships, the question remains about how society, including artists should interact with the ideas of race and ethnicity. Interestingly enough, Smedley's survey of race throughout history reveals there was no specific configuration and that in the past ethnicity and race were malleable features and characteristics that could change and be acquired by peoples of all different phenotypes (Smedley, 691). The fear expressed by the members of the church of Walker's story and the self-loathing expressed the young girl in Smith's poem were not inevitable. Smedly's study demonstrates that it is only since the 18th century that the modern conception of race, which attributes social, biological, and political meanings to the "physical variations among human groups" has emerged (pp. 691-693).
Now that this way of perceiving human races and differences has been ingrained in us, and since raced groups such Native Americans and African-Americans embraced this ideology in order to form group identity, it will be difficult to eradicate. The ideas of race are so deeply in our psyches that the mere presence of a black woman at church stimulates fear and loathing. Likewise, the little 9-year-old girl in Smith's poem never had a chance. Even her earliest memories attempt to convince her that she would be happier if only she had lighter skin, blue eyes, and bleached blond hair. Toni Morrison's famous book 'The Blues Eye" has a main character named Pecola. Pecola is a dark African-American young child who longs for blue eyes, her yearnings echo those of the nine-year-old girl; both girls are forever chasing some ideal that they have internalized. In many ways that it is the importance of literary works, to bring us face-to-face with our wants and desires whether we are proud of them or not.
There is some reason to think that the desires of both pecola and the nine-year-old girl can be rational. In their discussion and exploration of Jean Toomer's life, Randolph and Gates identify the conflicts and tensions of a writer who challenged race and then denied he was African-American because he was light enough to pass as white American (Byrd, and Gates, 31). Their discussion of the questions and challenges facing Toomer shed light on the ideas behind both Pecola and the nine-year-old girl, who in their childhood, confused white features with white privilege. Throughout his life Toomer, the author, would switch back and forth, sometimes identifying as white and other times as African-American (Byrd and Gates, 33-35). Toomer recognized and attempted to wrestle with the fact that his life was easier and his work garnered more praise the more distant from blackness he was, Byrd and Gates, noted that he would become upset when his work was featured in publications known to focus on African-American writings (pp. 38).
Pecola and the nine-year-old girl from Smith's poem then are not irrational, even in their youth they have tapped into an American truism, that life is better for whites. And that is the fundamental differences between the old woman and the young girls. Whereas the dolls and pretty dresses accumulated by blond white girls, engendered envy and a desire for blue eyes, in the young women, the old woman had no such problems. She, even in her poverty and aged body displayed a quiet dignity born of dignity and wisdom. We can even contrast Toomer's decision to abandon his blackness at the door with the woman's desire to bring her blackness through the door and into the church.
In MacDonald's survey of contemporary Scottish literature there is some reason to hope that the role of authors such as Alice Walker and Patricia Smith will be supplemented by the inclusion of black characters in fiction written by whites. Macdonald cautions authors from readily embracing the trend as a reflection of changes in how the English, Scottish, and the Irish view notions of race (pp. 79-80). Instead, MacDonald suggests that the paradigm under which Scotland even conceives of black and Asian Scottish identities already includes the notion of foreigner (pp. 84). Like the old woman, black Scottish fictional characters are the continual other and their presence, both fictional and real is a space which has already been denied full inclusion into Scottish identity. Like in America they are perpetually hyphenated.
The fiction may, like the literary works of Walker and Smith, serve a different purpose: the purpose of including the existence of Black Scots into the everyday concepts through the art of storytelling (Macdonald, 85). The author is truly interested and invested in a more inclusive society, especially, since Macdonald argues that Scottish society has a very limited understanding of race (pp. 93. The role of fiction then, whether it is in societies well versed in ideas about race or societies just beginning to grapple with these ideas is very important. The lesson from the nine-year-old girl and the old woman is both a cautionary tale and a moral recommendation, for both the victims of racism and its perpetrators.
Precoda and Polanah are concerned with how one rights about blackness in racialized America and they do so by looking at Richard Wrights 'Native Son' (pp. 31). The theme that emerges from their consideration is that of a liberatory authorship. By virtue of participating in the written arts, African-Americans, whether they write about race or not, are "moving from silence to writing" (Precoda and Polanah, pp. 44). They make this observation by attributing many of the statements made by the lead character in 'Native Son' to Richard Wright, and in doing so are able to pin point how Richard Wright self-actualizes through a fictional account of race relations in America.
This suggests that Walker and Smith, both of whom focus specifically on the trials of African-American women, may be engaged in a similar biographical artistic e, both of whom focus specifically on the trials of African-American women, may be engaged in a similar biographical artistic exercise. For Walker, the old woman without a name could be every African-American elderly woman, all of the grandmother's, and pious church going women in the community. There is a universal element to the character she created. Likewise, with Smith's young girl, who transcends even race in the end when her problems arise from her gender rather than her race, she too is universal.
Alice Walker's "The Welcome Table' shows a different side of racism other than hatred. In this story indifference is just as bad as hatred. Indifference to seeing an elderly woman, indifference to the laws of Christianity, indifference to pain, and the list goes on. Often times, we are faced with stories about racism which portray the acts of Europeans against people of color; acts which are considered intentional acts of violence, rarely do we see how indifference and the inaction which accompanies it can devastate someone's life. This I believe is the imagery and symbolism behind the elderly woman's presence as she is considered to be dirty and poor based on her clothing and her lack of winter attire (Walker, 82). Note that to the old woman she is dressed in her Sunday best and has prepared herself to attend church.
The relationship between indifference and invisibility is important in the scene where the old woman approaches the church. It is likely that if the Reverend or any of the inhabitants of that church had run into the old woman, as she is called throughout the story, that they would have been so indifferent to her existence that they simply did not see her. However, because in this story she appears in what they consider to be 'their territory' she is visible and the indifference to her existence because activated into something intentional. The conduct from the usher who asks her to…