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Reading Colour: a review of Toni Morrison’s “God Help The Child”

Book cover of Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child.

The first book I ever from Toni Morrison was The Bluest Eye. It has stayed with me since I first opened its pages and it still has a special place in my heart when it comes to exceptional writing. Reading Morrison’s works, it is not hard to see why she has won countless awards. I think the reason for her success is a not just her outstanding talent, but also what is reflected in the above quote: ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written get, then you must write it.’ Morrison is honest and her characters are complex and yet also understandable. I believe her true power comes from this: writing honest real stories about people who can feel with.

God Help The Child is a book that I have wanted to read for a long time, and I feel bad that I am coming to it so late considering it was published in 2015. Since I started my book buying ban for 2017, I went digging at my local library to find this book. I was very glad to see it tucked away on the shelf; I live in a small-ish Swiss town where English books are not so easy to come by.

This book almost got a 10/10 rating for me, however, the ending let it down. In saying that, it is still a sold 8.5-9/10 book if you ask me. The strength of the book lies in Morrison’s discussions on race and more specifically on colourism in the African American community in the U.S.A.. On both ends of the spectrum, light and dark skinned people in African American communities feel the weight of social pressures to conform to White standards of beauty, although there is also pressure to be more faithful to the Black community. Bride, the midnight-skinned protagonist is admired for her dark skin. She wears only white: like a leopard in the snow. Bride’s character shows a shift in the way we see darker skin. Trends like this can be seen with Lupita Nyong’o or Khoudia Diop where both women have risen to fame for their talents and also are admired for their dark skin. While darker skin is becoming more and more visible in the media and the arts, that visibility also comes with a layer of objectification and sometimes exoticising of darker skin.

Bride’s mother, a lighter skinned woman, was displeased and uncomfortable with Bride’s skin. This shows that colourism – the idea that darker skin is bad – is not just a Black/White issue, rather, that it is also within communities of colour. It is this lateral violence that Bride and her mother negotiate that shows the complexities of colourism in and outside the Black community. The novel is about Bride working through the years of conditioning about her skin.

On the whole, I thought the book was too short. This is both a reflection on the narrative, and the fact that I love Morrison’s work and didn’t want it to end. When the ending did come, and Bride was pregnant (sorry spoiler…) I also felt a little disappointed. I wanted more of everything. I am secretly hoping that Morrison writes a second novel to follow this one about Bride and her child. Will Bride be able to overcome the lateral violence she has experienced in her community when raising her child?

If you are unsure of the ways that colourism affects the Black community in the United States, then Morrison’s book is great place to start because it is fairly short, the writing flows well, and the complexity of colourism is shown from a variety of perspectives.

Have you read God Help The Child? What did you think of it? What other novels have you loved that tackle the difficult question of colourism? As always, remember to share the reading love.