Levar Burton has a cool podcast called "Levar Burton Reads." Remember back when he did Reading Rainbow? Well, he truly loves books and loves to read. So now he does this podcast. Recently I listened to his reading of Recitatif by Toni Morrison. First he waxed eloquent about his admiration for Morrison. (He's right; she's a great writer.) Then he read the story. It is about two girls who were close friends in childhood. One girl is white, one is black. After their lives take them on separate paths, they bump into each other on a couple different occasions as the years go by. They are growing up and into adulthood as the 1960s Civil Rights movement is going full swing in the USA.
Of course the story is interesting; but one aspect is VERY interesting. Morrison purposely doesn't tell us which character in the story is white and which character is black. At the end, Burton talks a bit about the story and questions us, the listeners: do you feel that you know which is which? Why did you come to those conclusions? What pre-conceived notions led us to decide in our minds which girl is white and which girl is black?
This was mind blowing. I thought about that for a long time. To me, I barely gave it any thought while listening. It was "obvious" to me which was white and which was black. But I didn't realize until Burton challenged me -- why was that "obvious?" I'm continuing to ponder that question. What does it say about me, or about the story, or about American culture, or about Morrison's talents, or even about Burton's reading? Very thought-provoking.