Jazz and the Black Plight

So I had to read Jazz for my class, fantastic (Duh- It’s Toni Morrison). But, anyway, she -my professor- asked if we agreed that jazz music was like representative of black people in general, and I’m all like… wow, hell yes. Hell, yes it is. Wow, what allegorical genius. Toni just vomits harsh truths like a sensitive gag reflex. It’s amazing, anyway, I wrote this.

Jazz music, like the black American community, is often discredited and underestimated as respectable and classic American music. Despite being a root for modern music evolution, jazz music is still saved for dark corners of New York clubs. Rather than receive the honor and royal treatment it deserves the way described as erratic rather than passionate, and formless rather than innovative. What is beautiful about jazz music is the ability to consider all forms of music composition and arrange that into free-form expression while still maintaining a firm structure. Jazz sets the tone for a clear parallel with the black community and how it is viewed in American culture.

Jazz music was birthed in the one of the most iconic black communities known for its contributions to art culture: Harlem. During the Harlem Renaissance, the black community was drunk off of their freedom from slavery and excited about opportunities they were never granted permission to dream of, like independence. Although the white community was not inviting, blacks were not deterred. With a strong connection to the music that brightened the dark days of confinement, they took the music ingrained in suffering and combined it with the music composition they now had the opportunity to learn. From this birthed a unique culture, and that is what black culture is. It is a culture that is constantly evolving based on cultural norms that are seemingly privatized for white America.

Jazz is seen as uncultured and lewd, developed at a time when societal mores were questioned and shifted. Life was sexualized and people were more open about it; skirts and dresses got shorter, the music got louder and faster and the American economy was booming. It was a time of celebration. That being said, it was a time where black people were finally able to feel proud of something; they were owners of an entire culture after having been told they weren’t considered a whole human being in law. What I see is, people making the absolute most out of very little and prospering within that.

In Toni Morrison’s Jazz, the theme of Jazz being representative of the plight of an African-American is apparent simply in its focus on the black community. The lack of white characters illustrates the cultural separation of the two communities.

Vera Louise Gray’s affair with Henry LesTroy can be seen as the allure of an outsider to the black community and thus cultural appropriation as well as the open minded nature of the black community to accept those who simply wanted to be involved; an act that is more rare in reversed roles. Vera having moved away from her family to raise her son can also be seen as a metaphor. Vera raised Golden Gray to be unaware of his background and blood lineage, just as slaves were taken from their families to be raised without knowledge of where they come from. Golden’s rage fueled reaction serves to highlight the self-hate that often erects itself in the black community as a consequence of the widely taught sentiment that they are less than.

Toni also leaves many of her characters without mothers, which can be translated to depict the loss of background or origination. For Joe, a lack of identity developed within himself when he found out he was adopted. That detachment from himself can be attributed to never having known his birth parents. He took his separation from his parents as a separation from his true self. Black people at this time were coming to terms with the fact that, although they now have established lives, their history and lineage and the truth of their people was taken from them. In America, black people created an entirely fresh identity for themselves, devoid of the African roots that run through them and contribute to their development as a people throughout slavery. Black people were adopted by America and then abandoned, forced into the wilderness like Wild and Golden Gray because there was no place for them in what was considered civilization.

It is because of that clear separation that America has developed a strict black/white mentality, where the lines cannot be blurred or shared and one has to be good while the other is bad. The separation and consequent lack of a shared community places a negative perception on the newly sprouting stalks of black culture because it wasn’t widely accepted and it was being led by a people that were only considered suitable for labor, just like jazz music. Toni Morrison’s work is rich with metaphors to explain and illustrate the plight of the black community from its birth in slavery through its continued progress since. Jazz is the perfect example of this, illustrating the after effects of slavery on the subconscious and the subsequent affect on the American mentality and the societies involved.

 

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