Musings on Toni Morrison's God Bless the Child
By Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman
When I read early publicity that Toni Morrison’s newest book, God Help the Child, was a novel written about a dark-skinned black woman who is brutalized by her mother because of her color, it struck a chord. It resonated with me because my first book, The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families, is a sociological book that will be published later this year addressing similar issues. I relished in imagining that Morrison and I may have vibed on the same conceptual wavelength without knowing it, pondering questions of colorism in black families, and leading us to publish a book on similar topics in the same year. I eagerly pre-ordered Toni Morrison’s new book, with excitement and incredulity … and then fear crept in. As a fledgling sociologist, I thought that Morrison’s book could only mean one thing: the kiss of death for my book. But wait, this was no irrational fear. Anyone who has read Morrison’s work knows that when she gives a theme her treatment, she forfeits the necessity of any more words. She articulates with ease in 150 pages, what I can not accomplish with a modicum of the same impact in 350 pages. Visions of us intellectually vibing were now overcome with the sense that her book would render my book redundant and, at worst, mundane. I had the sinking feeling that Toni Morrison had stolen my thunder.
Immediately after this thought passed through my mind, I was overcome with laughter. A laugh that lasted several times longer than the original thought itself. A laugh that was borne out of how completely and utterly preposterous it was to imagine Morrison “stealing my thunder.” What thunder? All I could do was laugh at the absurdity of this idea, as my passion for reading, my desire to write, and my interest in colorism, all find themselves linked to the reverberations of Morrison’s thunder. My childhood memories of her books on my mother’s bookshelf, the same ones that later migrated to my own shelves trace a more accurate truth – my work is the sociological undulation, a mere residual of her oeuvre. Toni Morrison, literary genius and Nobel Laureate, does not and can not steal anyone’s thunder - She IS thunder!