Recent Titles in
Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies
The White Imagein theBlackMind: A Studyof AfricanAmerican Literature jane Dav is
Black Leadership for So cial Change j acob U. Gordon
Mytharype s: Signatures and Signs of African/Diaspor a and Black Goddesses Alexis Brook s De Vita
African Visions : Lirerary Images,Political Change, and SocialStruggle in Com empo rary Africa
Cheryl B. Mw aria,Silvia Fedel-ici, and josephMcLaren, edito rs
Voices of the Fugitives: RunawaySlaveStoriesand Their Fictionsof Self-Creation Sterling Lecater Bland,
Meditations on African Lirerarure Dub em Okafor
Achebe the Orator: The Art of Persuasion in Chinua Achebe's Novels Chinw e Chri stiana Okechukwu
Rethinkingthe SlaveNarrati ve: SlaveMarria geand theNarrativesof Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft
The Harlem Group of Negr o Writers Melvin B. Tolson
Edward]. Mullen, editor
Rereadingthe HarlemRenaissance: Race, Class,and Genderin the Fictionof Jessie Fauser, Zora Neale Hurston, and Dorothy West
Sharon L. jones
Critical Essays o n Bessie Head Maxine Sample, editor
Reproducti on and Social Context in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Collection of Micro Demographi c Studies
Samu elAgyei-Mensah and john B. Casterline, editors
Under the Gaze
Ethnicity and the Patholo
in the Pla
Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies,
Num ber 208
"Warri ng" Identities in the Life and
Plays of Georgia Douglas Johnson
The intrigue of Georgia Douglas Johnson's unique personality resides in the diversity of her writings, her friendships, her passion for life, and despair of living as a woman writer of mixed racial heritage. Her works are fraught with anguish over love lost and unrequited, confu sion over her racial duality, the trauma of miscegenation, and the tragedy of a racial prejudice that ends in torture or lynching. Ex tremely secretive about her past, her heritage, her parents and grand parents-even her age-J ohnson, like some of her characters, seemed to suffer from a repressed identity, which caused her to be "o nto logically insecure," a term that R. D. Laing coined in his study of schizophrenia in his book The Divided Selp According to Gloria T. Hull, "Judging from her appearance, her lifelong preoccupation in life and art with the miscegenation theme, an d the allusions made by others, she was a black person with considerable white blood in her ancestry" (155). Actually, in a more recent account of her life, Clau dia Tate, in the introduction to The Works of Georgia Douglas John
son, explains that her mother, Laura Douglas, was black and her
fath er, George Camp, was "Native American and half black and white" (xxvii).
Johnson and her characters exhibit confused and fragmented identities. They suffer from an e.xistential alienation and loss of self, perpetuated by society's negative response to persons of color (espe cially mulattoes) and woman artists. The black mothers in Blue
15 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
Blood brag about their children's white bloodline; in Plumes and
Safe,the mothers act out their desire for death over a life controlled by an oppressive white patriarchy by sacrificing their children. John son herself was often depressed and despairing over the lack of recognition she received for her writing, even from her black peers. There is also evidence that she was ambivalent about her sexual ori entation.' Therefore, she was not able to truly express or know who she was, so that she could achieve plenitude or be confident, secure, and safe in her role as a woman and black writer in a man's world.
Johnson (1877-1966) was born in Atlanta, Georgia. She did not have a very close relationship with her mother and she experienced a lonely childhood. Like many of her characters, she lived in a single parent household after her parents separated early in her life (Works xxviii). Johnson was well educated, taught school, and married
Henry Lincoln Johnson, a lawyer, in 1903. The couple moved to
Washington D.C., where in 1912 President Taft appointed Henry
Johnson to the government position of Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia. This position allowed Georgia Johnson the economic means to write but she was hampered, to a certain extent, by a husband who wanted a traditional wife and mother. She was not
predisposed to the domestic role but managed to raise two sons,
Henry and Peter, while writing several volumes of poetry, some sto ries and several plays.
However, it was not until her husband's death in 1925, a time
when her sons were in their teens, that her career as a playwright began in earnest, even though she had to work to support her family
(Hull 164). Much of her writing epitomizes the conflictual personae
that are at the center of her works-characters whose lives are dis rupted or deranged by troubles, that find their source in a dual racial alliance and divided psyche that must be resolved by submitting to white oppression or succumbing to sacrificial death. Johnson's charac ters' split psyches, ontological insecurity, and desire for death are re flected in the theories of Julia Kristeva, R. D. Laing, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault, all of which I will use as I analyze her life and works.
Although Johnson wrote poetry, stories and drama, she was first recognized as a poet, and within these works, her obsession with a di vided racial self and a pervasive sense of loss is evident. In a poem ti
tled "Cosmopolite" in her collection, Bronze (1922), Johnson
encapsulates a theme that haunts much of her writing:
Not wholly this or that, But wrought
Of alien bloods am I, A product of the interplay Of trammeled hearts.
Estranged, yet not estranged, I stand All comprehending;
From my estate
I view earth's frail dilemma; Scion of fused strength am I, All of understanding, Nor this nor that
Contains me. (qtd. in Gates, Works 135)
Johnson's inner tension concerning her mixed blood may be one of the reasons she began to meet on a regular basis with the "New Negro" group of writers at her home in Washington D.C., most of whom were also mulattoes. The idea for discussion groups was pro moted by Jean Toomer, who attended the meetings at Johnson's home and corresponded with her on a regular basis. Johnson explained it this way: "Years ago-Jean Toomer said to me 'Mrs. Johnson, why don't you have Weekly Conversations among the writers here in Washing
ron?" (qtd. in Hull 165). Toomer, like most of the members of the
group, was light-skinned,3 and it was Toomer who fostered the idea in Johnson that black and white could merge into one united race. How ever, Langston Hughes, who often joined the group, had a very differ ent idea of the success of such a merger. George Hutchinson notes that Hughes was not in favor of the above fusion. The latter saw mulattoes as "self-divided, disinherited, homeless souls conceived in heartless
lust and identified as neither white nor black" (688). In another poem
from Bronze ("Fusion"), Johnson offers a more positive view of merg ing the two races:
How deftly does the gardener blend This rose and that
To bud a new creation,
More gorgeous and more beautiful
Than any parent portion, ''' .
16 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze 17 The tributary sources,
They patently commingle And sweep
With newborn forces! (Works 60)
Hutchinson points out that the aforementioned prevailing mythol ogy concerning mulattoes was not biologically possible because "they were destined to disappear since they could reproduce only by 'back crossing' with blacks or whites." This contradicts johnson's and Toomer's notion that a "new race" could be created (689).
In the foregoing poems, Johnson understands that she is of two "warring" racial strains but attempts to find strength in the fusion. This optimism is not reflected in most of her poems and plays. On the con trary, her plots usually revolve around the pain of miscegenation. Her unpublished works, that Johnson was encouraged by Carl Sandburg to publish, demonstrate that she was primarily interested in the problem atic side of fusion. The plots of those works were composed of short stories about characters with mixed blood, for example, "Rainbow Sil houettes" (about a girl passing for white) and one about a black girl who was the child of a rich white woman and her butler. Neither story had a happy ending (Hull 167-68).4 Cedric Dover, Harlem Renaissance writer and critic, commented that Johnson was preoccupied with "the situations of visibly mixed-blood blacks," as well as with the plight of women. He cites examples of her characters' problems because of mixed racial heritage, including a mother who is a government worker and "a concubine-bound slave woman" (Hull 176).
In "The Heart of a Woman" (1918), Johnson's speaker recognizes in a subliminal way the limitations of being both female and black. In the opening lines of the poem, the heart" enters some alien cage in its plight," and" tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars / while it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars" (qtd. in Works 13). Although "Heart of a Woman" did not specifically address racial issues, its poems were despairing of the general human condition, as well as of the female condition in a patriarchal society. However, Johnson articulated more explicit racially charged feelings in later works. Winona Fletcher, in her Dictionary of Literary Biography (D LB) entry on Johnson, quotes her as saying about Bronz e, her second volume of poetry (quoted previ ously), that the heart now signified "the heart [in "Heart of a Woman"] of a colored woman aware of her social problems and the potentiality of the so-called hybrid. " In her poem "Black Woman" in that volume,
the speaker "warns," according to Fletcher, "Don't knock on my door little child . . . / I must not give you birth!" (156).
It appears, therefore, that Johnson is camouflaging her emotional stance on miscegenation in "Heart" through metaphorical language. This process is reminiscent of Julia Kristeva's theories of psychoanaly sis through the decoding of a patient's discourse, a process that even tually results in a realization of the fantasy that replaces the patient's actual object of love. This "metaphorical identification causes the sub ject to exist within the signifier of the Other" ("Freud and Love" 246-47).' There is no anal yst here to be the object of transference as a substitute love object, but Johnson's poetic metaphors of despair are finally demystified from the tragic loss of a love in Heart to the real ity of the pain of a mixed racial love in Bron z e. The writing of Heart
and other poems could also be interpreted as sublimation, Freud's term for the manifestation of repressed sexual desire in the form of creative endeavors. In The Scarlet Letter, for example, Dimmesdale pours all his sexual energy into writing his final sermon after meeting up with the personification of sexual demons in the forest. Like Dimmesdale's, Johnson's writing is a way of concealing suppressed sexual feelings, which may have caused her guilt. There is substantial evidence that Johnson had an extramarital affair. Her collection of poems, Autumn Lov eCycle (1929), is repl ete with feelings, images and events that come from Johnson's own life. Alice Dunbar-Nelson, (close friend of Johnson's) wrote, "I wonder what Link [her husband] thinks of it? ...
Itlooks suspiciously to me as if Georgia has had an af fair. ..." (qtd. in Hull 175). Johnson, then, uses her writing as therapy for all she must keep secret.
Another possible explanation for Johnson's repressed allusions to mixed racial love in "Heart" is her own lack of what Kristeva would call "Triangulation," the infant's instinctual identification with the mother's desire for the phallus, which links the child to "the father of individual prehistory. :" This identification is essential for the child to enter into primary narcissism and move on to the oedipal stage and de velopment of itsego.As I have reported previously,Johnson's mother did not appear to have a close relationship with her father, so as an in fant she did not identify with the father of individual prehistory or the mother's desire for the phallus, and her mother was not particularly nurturing.
Iftriangulation does not-occur, according to Kristeva, the mother, instead of loving, will be clinging, enveloping, or rejecting and will prevent the child from developing normally ("Freud and Love"
19 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
250-51). The child therefore will not be able to develop a fruitful and satisfying love relationship with anyone. R. D. Laing's description of the ramifications of a child's being engulfed or ignored by a mother (where there is an absent father) presents an appropriate paradigm. James, a patient of Laing's, felt "he was not a person in his own right." His mother had not "recognized his existence" or allowed him "the freedom and right to have a life of his own," a life that would result in "his own autonomous and integral self-being" (Laing 97). Because of the times in which she lived, and her own early history of a problem
atic childhood, Johnson seems to epitomize the above case study. After the death of her husband in 1925, Johnson interacted with man y literary friends, but does not seem to have had any obvious love
entanglements or intimacies. As many critics have confirmed, includ
ing Claudia Tate, she led a dual mental existence as a feminine ladylike woman with a strong "masculine" creative persona, one that came through in her writings. Tate asserts, in the Introduction to Johnson's
Selected Works, "Johnson's public persona would only allow the fem
inist in her to peek OUt from behind the veil of a lady" (xli). Tate also affirms that Johnson" did not make her complicated social and sexual attitudes the explicit focus of her writing." It is well known that she moved within a large group of gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends, but she kept this aspect of her life well hidden (xli).
A serious problem for Johnson was also the faint praise and severe criticism she suffered at the hands of well-known black male writers and publishers such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Cedric Dover. Du Bois, for instance, had this to say about her volume Bronze after a few COm plimentary words: "Her word is simple, sometimes trite, but it is sin gularly sincere and true and as a revelation of the soul struggle of a race, it is invaluable" (Works xlviii). Cedric Dover was even harsher in his 1952 article in Crisis, excluding her from the works of the Harlem Renaissance. He says that even though she was published in antholo gies of Harlem Renaissance poets, "She is definitely of 'it', but equally
definitel y not in it" (qtd, in Hutchinson 633). He continues to demean
her themes in Bronze and Autumn Love Cycle, criticizing her discus sion of "the potential of the so-called hybrid" (634). Hull, in her biog raphy of Johnson, exposes Dover as critical of her volume Love Cycle when he says the volume lacks a fresh view and "revert s to the per sonal notes of her first poems.... The poet is again overwhelmed by hers elf" (178). Dover, another mulatto, seems obliged to qualify any praise he has for Johnson's poetry. Surely, the previous narrative con
cerning Johnson's family life, her marriage, lack of love interest (at
eastone she could publicly profess), and lukewarm receptions for her frank views on miscegenation and womanhood and the necessity to conform to the values and mores of the 1920s and 1930s in terms of sexuality, gender, and race, support the idea that she suffered from a gaze (both black and white) that contributed to her living a frag mented existence. This identity confusion exemplifies R. D. Laing's theories of the false self, one that
consists in becoming what the other person wants or expects one to become, one's "self" in imagination or in games in front of a mirror. In conformity,
therefore, with what one perceives or fancies to be the Thing one is in the other person's eyes, the false self becomes that thing. (99)
However, it is in Johnson's plays that we see some of the most striking examples of both the psychological consequences of misce genation and characters whose identity is informed by a self-conscious gaze that leads many times to a desire for death. Hardly surprising, most of her plays have women as the protagonists and these women are either widows or there is an absent father. Therefore, the probability of the children who live in those households experiencing what Julia Kris teva refers to as triangulation, an early instinctual recognition of a de sire on the mother's part for the male phallus and later an "abjection" of the mother in favor of the father-a move in other words into the sym bolic stage-is remote ("Freud and Love" 238-39). We see in some of Johnson's plays not only a split psyche over dual racial heritage but
psychological ramifications of an instinctual sense of an absence of the
so-called "father of individual prehistory." In the plays, where the fa
ther is absent, the mother figure speaks for the children and makes de cisions based on her own unconscious desires-sometimes for her
child's or her own death.
In johnsori's play Plumes, there is the typical domestic female set ting: two women, a mother and her friend, sit in a kitchen to discuss the dilemma facing the mother. f:xcept for a brief appearance of the doctor, there are no men presentt-lnthis case, the mother, Charity, must decide whether to spend fifty dollars on an operation for her daughter or on an elaborate funeral complete with horses decked in
"ColorStruck" Under the Gaze
"plumes." This short
playreveals the influence religion and the after
lifehave on Charity as she sits with her friend
Tildywho, anticipating the daughter's death, sews her funeral dress. Charity is adamant about her lack of confidence in doctors: "The doctor said
lasttime he was here he might have to operate-said, she maught have a chance then .
But I tell you the truth, I've got no faith a-tall in em. They take all your money for nothing" (in Perkins 25).7 Charity does have faith, however, in God, and the
lifehereafter her daughter will enjoy if she dies.
Indesiring her daughter's death, Charity also desires her own.
Kristeva asserts in her essay "The Unshakable Illusion" in her book In The Beginning Was Love "that every pregnant woman fanta sizes about the death of her baby, but some women, in order to protect their Own narcissistic tendencies, may symbolically murder their off spring" (17).
play Safe(discussed later in this chapter), the yo un g mother literally murders her
newlyborn baby. Charity al
lowsher child to die rather than risk her fifty dollars on an opera tion-a risk at
least equalto that of losing the chance for a luxurious funeral, a procession that will
leadher child to heaven. Charity, who has already
lostone child, laments the fact that she can only afford a pauper's funeral. She imagines having a grand procession
likethe one that she sees go past her window: "My Lord! Ain't it grand! Look at them horses-look at their heads-plumes-how they shake em! Lord O 'mighty! It's a fine sight, Sister Tildy" (27).
According to Kristeva, Freud insists that religion is an illusion, and whether or not this is equivocal, religion as illusion has some beneficial effects. It
allowsus acceptable hallucinations that
analyst into "an accurate representation of the reality of its subjects'
desires" (Love 11). Freud interprets these hallucinations, according to Kristeva, "as a displacement of the Oedipal conflict into a religious embrace of the Almighty" (12). Although we know nothing of Char ity's early days as a child, she appears to substitute her faith in God for what I have referred to earlier as triangulation (the third party, the object of the mother's desire intuited by the infant). God becomes a surrogate phallus and religious fantasies "are made plausible by grant ing the son, after his suffering, the
glorythat comes of identification with the father." Religious hallucinations, alt ho u gh not always cura tives, are
lesstraumatic than "bu rn ing desire or abandonment" (13-14). Charity is not only comforted by her firm belief in and love of God but by folk magic, a practice she respects more than the sci ence of medicine.
Tildy offers to read the coffee grounds and the ominous message is clear. There is a funeral in the future of Charity. This magical ritual su
persedes the doctor's advice-that an operation could save Emrnerline's
life.When Doctor Scott urges Charity to allow the operation-the only hope, although slim, of saving her child's life, he is shocked by her reply: "Sure Docror-i-I want to-do-everything I can do to-to-Doctor look at this cup. My fortune's jes been told this very morning-." Doc
tor Scott continues his supplication: "I didn't think you'd hesitate about it-I imagined your love for your child-." Charity insists she loves her daughter "but it means so much to her-and me!" (29- 30).
Charity is now enthralled by her fantasy of a funeral with plumes.
Itis more important to "show" people to what expense yo u are will ing to go to put on a decent burial procession than allow the operation. Of course the child dies, and Charity fulfills her desire, however un conscious, for her child's death. Her illusions about the significance of the outer trappings of the funeral seem to fill some gap left by her own aborted ego development. She is a woman who seems distanced from her daughter's pain, and the instinct to save her life at any cost is ab sent. She "abjects" (Kristeva's usage) her daughter as her daughter ab jeers (rejects) her by dying. The objects of metaphorical identification, consisting of Ernmerline's funeral dress, the horses with plumes, and a fine coffin are substitutions for the loved one (her daughter).
Charity's insecurity is never more evident than when she relies on
Tildy 's reading of the coffee grounds to decide the fate of her daugh
ter, and ironically she seems to be at peace with the prediction of death. She hesitates, almost purposefully, so that the daughter will die and the funeral will take place in all its pomp and glory-Charity's
displacement of the love for her daughter.
Itis as if Charity is hypno tized and temporarily mad. Her ego is taken over by the overwhelm ing sense of her daughter's beatific and glorious death. She is, or seems to be, separated from herself. As Kristeva observes in speaking of
Freud's concept of narcissism and "amatory identification," it is a hyp
nosis that "causes us to lose perception of reality since we hand it over to the Ego-Ideal"-in Charity's case, her romantic attachment to the accouterments of the funeral. Kristeva explains,"T h e object in hypno sis devours or absorbs the Ego, the voice of consciousness becomes blurred, 'in loving blindness one becomes a criminal without re morse" and, "The object has tak~n the place of what was the Ego Ideal" ("Freud and Love" 243).8 Charity is projecting her desire for her own death and funeral-after all she has no one left; her husband
23 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
and children are dead. Although the implications are not as strong as in
Safe,the reader is left with a sense that death is preferable over a life ruled by the white patriarchy. Life for Emmerline, her future as a black woman, would be a replication of her mother's. She would be confined to the "kitchen " as a domestic or seamstress, with little hope of educa tion or an economically promising marriage, and most likely would lose her husband or son to lynching or desertion.
Blue Bloodpresents another salient psychological study, although not tragic in that no one is lynched or dies. However, the mother in this play suffers from an identity confusion that is never re solved. Rape drives the action of the play, but in
,there are comic overtones in the dialogue and a strange irony in the coincidence of the two mothers involved in rapes by the same white banker. Like most of Johnson's plays, the setting in
Blue Bloodis the kitchen, the wornanist space where men are talked about but are virtually absent. Mrs. Bush's light-skinned daughter and Mrs. Temple's light-skinned son are about to be married. It becomes clear that Mrs. Temple is more affluent and feels herself superior to Mrs. Bush, who retains her black Southern dialect. When Mrs. Temple tries to help Mrs. Bush with the salad, the latter sees that Mrs. Temple is not used to doing her own cooking:
MRS . BUSH. I'm afraid you'll get yourself spoiled doing kitchen work. Sich Folks as you better go 'long in the parlor.
MRS. TEMPLE. Oh no indeed. This is my son's wedding and I'm here to do a mother's part. Besides, he's a Temple and every thing must be right. (41)
Mrs . Temple evidently has married well. However, both mothers express pride in their children's blond hair and blue eyes. They are blue bloods, and the women argue over whose child is superior.
MRS. TEMPLE. You'll have to admit that the girls will envy May marrying my boy John.
MRS. BUSH. Envy MAY!!! Envy MAY!!! They'd better envy JOHN!!! You don't know who May is. She's got blue blood
in her veins. (41)
At the beginning of the play, however, Mrs. Bush shows dismay and some regret that May is not marrying her longtime dark-skinned friend, Randolf Strong. So she exposes in this scene a double-consciousness that informs her loyalty to her African heritage and her pride at having a light-skinned daughter. She is so determined to prove to Mrs. Temple that May has the bluest blood, she confesses a secret that has long been buried in her conscience-that May is the product of her being raped by "Cap'n WINFIELD McCALLISTER ... that 'ristocrat uv 'ristocrats ... that Peachtree blue-blood ..." (41).
What began as an almost comic scene in which the tWO mothers engage in a "can you top this" contest over whose child is "bluer" be comes a scene of horror and shock for both the characters and the au dience when Mrs. Temple reveals that the same banker is John's father. Johnson ends a play that could have ended in an incestuoUs tragedy in a comedic way, with the deus ex machina Randolf Strong rescuing May with an offer of marriage. Poor May must marry a man she does not love and the problem remains for the tWO mothers. They will for ever keep the secret in order to save social face for themselves and their children, but also they must keep John from taking revenge on Me Callister. As Mrs. Bush says, "Keep it from him. It's the black women that have got to protect their men from the white men by not telling on 'em" (46).
Ifwe could write a sequel to the play, we might see that the women must bear the guilt forever of not only being raped by a white man but also the guilt of desiring that whiteness, being proud of having children with "blue blood in their veins." This very common situation cannot help but have psychological repercussions. Even more problematic is Mrs. Temple's marriage-she must live with a husband who can never know the secret-a phenomenon that will contrib u te to a lifelong inability to achieve authenticity of self. Both women must present false selves to the world.
The Lynching Plays
Georgia Johnson's obsession with death and its privilege over life is again played out in her lynching plays. In the 1920s and 1930s, when lynching incidents escalated, Johnson wrote a series of plays based on this theme. W. Fitzhugh Brundage, in his book Lynching in the New
South,reveals the shameful facts ·of"lynching and mob violence as an American and a Southern phenomeri'on. In the postbellum period, white planters, fearing they would lose their supremacy over blacks
25 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
and blacks ' political and economic power, became more violent to
ward them (6-7). Brundage offers some shocking statistics: "With each succeeding decade, the proportion of lynchings that occurred in the
South rose, increasing from 82 percent of all lynchings in the nation
during the 1880s to more than 95 percent during the 1920s" (8).
Brundage also points to the interesting opinions of John Dollard, a psychologist, who explained white lynchings of blacks as an accept able outlet for aggression. The economic frustrations of declining cot ton crops also gave whites a reason to vent their frustrations on blacks (9-11). However, the most intriguing explanation and one applicable to my thesis are the more recent studies that point to the "psycholog
ical tensions among whites about gender and sexuality. Whites . .. pro~
jected forbidden fantasies onto blacks, and then vented their anger on
the creature of their own creation, the black rapist" (11). Although
there were lynchings in other parts of the country, the toll did not come close to the "estimated 723 whites and 3,220 blacks lynched in
the South between 1880 and 1930" (8).
One of the shortest of Johnson's plays, Safe (1929), is ingeniously
crafted and contains all the elements of an Aristotelian tragedy. It is
about a mother who chokes her male bab y when she learns that a man
has been lynched just prior to the birth of her child. One of the few plays in which there is a complete nuclear family (husband, wife, and grandmother), the atmosphere at the opening appears tranquil. The grandmother, Mandy, sits sewing on her daughter's unborn infant's
baby clothes and the husband, John, sits reading the paper. It takes
only a few lines of dialogue to turn this homey scene into a potential tragedy. With a familiar "Johnson" knock on the door, a neighbor, Hannah, announces that a mob is gathering to lynch a black boy who slapped his boss during a scuffle. Liza becomes despondent over the
situation and asks the African American existential question: "What's
little nigger boys born for anyhow? I sho hopes mine will be a girl." It becomes clear that the boy will be lynched and Liza goes into labor. The doctor arrives to assist in the birth and to calm the hysterical
mother-to-be. We hear the baby's first cry and the doctor emerges to
announce the terrible news:
DR. JENKINS. And she asked me right away "Is it a girl?"
JOHN, MANDY. Yes, yes, Doc! Go on!
DR. JENKINS. And I said, "no, child, it's a fine boy." Then I
turned my back a minute to wash in the basin. When I looked
around again she had her hands about the baby's throat chok
ing it .... It was dead! Then she began muttering over and
over again: "Now he's safe-Safe from the lynchers! Safe!" (Works 110-115)
Death is preferable to the threat of control by a white racist pa
triarchy and a possible lynching of her own child. Perhaps it is not as
dear as in Plumes, but Kristeva's theories also seem to apply here.
Liza's child is now safe with God in heaven; the hallucination Kris
teva speaks of in "The Unshakable Illusion" becomes a reality. Liza,
the new mother, is perfectly grounded in her belief that the male
baby is safer dead than alive. Although horrifying, there is no real choice for her. The reality is that her boy has a good chance of being jailed or lynched. Even if she did not have a belief in the hereafter, her murder, in her mind, and to us the audience, results in an ironic relief: one less lynching.
There is a comparison to be made between Foucault's ideas about madness and the twentieth-century cultural attitudes toward race and the social acceptance of lynching by whites. The definitions of madness
constructed by the ruling male authorities of the eighteenth-century
Enlightenment, and the exclusion of the mad from mainstream civilized society, have influenced how the Irish and black races were excluded in modern times in America. Foucault blurs the boundaries between san ity and insanity as he claims that we must return to "that zero point in the course of madness at which madness is an undifferentiated experi
ence" (Madness and Civilization ix). As stated in the introduction,
blacks in this country during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were perceived as less than human. They were forced to work, as were
the mad in the asylums , as a low-cost labor force and were perceived as
an immoral species. David Shumway's interpretation of Foucault's
Madness and Civilization underscores the power religious leaders
wielded over the mad. Indigents were tantamount to Antichrists, so
were subject to imprisonment without due process (33).
Madness and confinement were also tantamount to poverty. The blacks were, as were the mad, forced into the ghetto or plantation and
thus removed from society. Because the mad (or blacks), as noted
previously, were not considered intelligent or able to work, and were
not assimilated, they were "classiDed among the problems of the
modern city" (Shumway 34). They "w ere also seen as animalistic
27 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
Shumway notes, "Unchained animality could be mastered only by discipline and brutalizing" (34).
In the later eighteenth century, madness was decriminalized, but morality was measured by economic status. The poorer you were, the more immoral but valuable as a laborer. New "asylums" for the mad were created, but guilt was redirected: "T he mad are no longer made to feel guilty for being mad but instead must be made to feel morally responsible for anything they do to disturb society" (39). These dis torted notions apply equally to blacks and not only inform the psy chology of the characters in Johnson's plays, but are also at the root of the contemporary whites' perception of blacks in America.
Characters in A Sunday Morning in The South (1925) are gazed upon and classified like the mad in the eighteenth century and they suffer automatic punishment because of the perceived relationship be tween color and guilt. As was the case centuries ago in Europe with the mad and the indigent, males of color were arrested and tortured by mobs of angry and aggressive men who had no authority other than their own hatred of the black race. In this , another lynching play, psy chological stability is preserved again, as in Plumes, by a strong belief in God and church affiliation, although the horror of the tragic ending lingers in the consciousness of the audience. The afterlife is again preferable to the present life of discrimination and poverty. In another fatherless household, Liza, the grandmother, prays throughout the playas her grandson Tom is arrested falsely for rape. The church choir, singing" Amazing Grace" provides an eerie accompaniment to Liza's suffering and intermittent prayer: "O h Lord, hep us bear our cross
Hep us!" Hoping that the congregation's prayers and hymns will
reach Jesus, the women take heart as Liza encourages Sue, Tom's mother: "They all sho talkin to the Lord fer you in that church this mornin. Listen!" (36).
An unequivocal faith and reliance On religion and spiritual song acts as a cathartic and a spiritual boost to blacks in the South. Up until the final moments of the play, Liza has faith: "That's all we can do jes tell Jesus! Jesus! Jesus please bend down your earl " The church music continues in the background. When the news of the lynching arrives, Sue shouts a final "Jesus!" and then drops dead (37). Again death is privileged over living in a white society. It is implied that even in the face of prayers unanswered, the black women will take solace in their religion and the spiritual music that accompanies it: "Lord, have mercy/Lord have mercy/Lord have mercy over me." The choir's
plaintive threnody brings down the curtain. Judith Stephens speaks of Johnson's technique of using spirituals as "an artistic gesture that points to the pervasive racial separation in the United States" (African American Review 519). I see this "artistic gesture," described by Stephens, not only as separation, but also as solace and as a genre that can be claimed by the black race and its culture.
Using Freudian theory as a measure for her own interpretation of Christianity and as a metaphor in exploring borderline schizophren ics, Kristeva proffers intriguing interpretations of Freud's concepts. According to Freud, there is a direct connection between Jesus as God and "t he father of individual prehistory" that I alluded to earlier. In the incipient stages of the infant's development, there exists the birth of a psychic awareness and identification with the prehistoric father who, in Kristeva's words, "po ssessed the sexual characteristics and functions of both parents" (Beginning Was Love 25). God becomes our first lover, and his love is enduring with no strings attached. This God/Jesus brings to the black women a substitution, a surrogate for the physical father figure who is either absent or, in the case of the play
Sunday Morning, lynched. So with this transference from the father to
the Father and the idea that religion is a substitute for oedipal rejec tion, women can, and do, survive either by desiring death that will bring a beatific afterlife with God or embracing life with the promise of a Father who will not forsake them-an ironic but practical solu tion to loss and trauma. Kristeva, in her essay "Credo," explores the nature of this phenomenon and she explains the paradox in this unswerving Christian faith as it relates to Christ's passion:
Psy ch ologically, however, it is Christ's passion, the "folly of the cross" as Saint Paul and Pascal called it, that reveals the so mber division that is perhaps the paradoxical condition of faith: 'Father, Father, why hast thou forsaken me?" It is the separation from the other, the forsakenness that allows the indi vidual to reach completion and ecstasy in the completion (co rnp lerud e: re union with the father himself a symbolic substitute for the mother) but also eternal life (resu rr ect io n) in the imagination. (Love 31-32)
Religious fantasies become the metaphoric substitute for parental love in so-called "normal" maturation into adulthood. I am not sug gesting the female protagonists in the plays just analyzed are schizo phrenics or borderlines, but th ,tt jhey take on behaviors and coping strategies that match those of case studies in Kristeva's and Laing's wntings.
29"Color Struck" Under the Gaze
In Kristeva's essay "Freud and Love: Its Treatment and Its Discon
tents," the psychoanalyst recounts a case study that describes her
yo ung patient's obsession with music-he's literally tied to his Walk man. The patient, Michael, exposes a family history in which he is often the victim of abuse. Eventually, he learns to block out the pain with music, but in his case his obsession is so engulfing that he retreats to tally from interaction with others. Without the Walkman, he is unable to function (267). The black women in Johnson's plays, who must live without males in their lives because of lynching, beatings and other abuse by white authorities, suppress the pain and memory of such tor tures. This can only be done by replacing the loss and pain with the Christ figure who suffered, died and was resurrected. This overarching belief overwhelms all other logic and creates a desire in the women in
Sunday Morning, Plumes, and other plays for this savior and thus ulti
mately a desire for death, for one can only be redeemed after death. Spiritual music serves as a metaphoric connection to this savior.
In Johnson's Blue-Eyed Black Boy, we 'are witness to another lynching scenario, but one linked to miscegenation. The play is set in the familiar female space of the kitchen and Mrs. Waters, the protago nist, is ironing her daughter Rebecca's wedding gown, Mrs. Waters is proud that Rebecca is marrying a doctor, something that will obvi ously help her to rise above her current social class. The play turns On the fact that her son, John, who has not returned home for dinner, has been accused of "brushing against a white woman." He is being held in the jailhouse, and is in danger of being lynched. In the course of the conversation between Rebecca and Mrs. Waters, we learn that John has blue eyes.
REBECCA. Everybody says he's the smartest and finest looking black boy in the whole town.
MRS. WATERS. Yes he is good looking if he is mine-some lay it to his eyes.
REBECCA. Yes, they do set him off. It's funny he's the only one in our family's got blue eyes though. Pa's was black and yours and mine are black too-It certainly is strange. (48) Within this very short drama, we see again how the conflictual identity of Mrs. Waters is played Out. She is proud of her son's brains and good looks, which we soon learn come from the man with whom she had an affair, the new white governor of the state. Unlike the
forced sexual encounters of the women in Blue Blood, Mrs. Waters reveals a real affection for the Governor and implies that it was con sensual sex: "I've got faith in him, faith in-in the Governor-he won't fail-" and "Lo rd Jesus. I know I've sinned against your holy
law but you did forgive me and let me hold up my head again" (50). She is certain th at the Governor for whom she has trust and faith will save her son.
The juxtaposition of the lynch mob and Mrs. Waters' liaison with a white man and her pride in the offspring of that liaison places her in the state of double-consciousness that is typical of many blacks. Tom Lutz (American Nervousness) shows how this split allegiance to a black and white world causes a type of neurasthenia, a nervous condi tion that promotes inactivity, ennui, exhaustion, nervousness, and an inability to focus on work. W. E. B. Du Bois reflects on this condition in his own writing and life, and of course it was Du Bois who coined the term "double-consciousness." Lutz interprets Du Bois' views on this doubleness as "an agent of debilitation" and a phenomenon that "incapacitates blacks" (263). When Du Bois himself discussed the issue of black Americans' split alliance (American and African), he has this to say in The Souls of Black Folk:
That American Negroes must live a double life . . . which gives rise to a painful self-consciousness , an almost morbid sense of personality and a moral hesitancy, which is fatal to self-co nfidence. The worlds within and without the veils of labor are changing, and changing rapidly, but not at the same rate, not in the same way; and this must produce a peculiar wrenching of the soul, a peculiar sense of doubt and bewilderment. Such a double life, with double thoughts, double duties and double social classes, must give rise to double words and double ideals, and tempt the mind to pretense of revolt, to
hypocrisy or radicalism. (qtd. in Lutz 263-264)
Lutz points out that Du Bois' diction is of itself a paradigm of neurasthenia: "painful self-consciousness," "moral hesitancy," "un rest," "peculiar wrenching of the soul," etc., and that Du Bois is also raising the social level of blacks by equating their tendency toward neurasthenia with that of refined, educated whites such as Henry James and Edith Wharton, who also had the disease. GeorgiaJohnson
also demonstrates signs of this condition, especially later in her life. That aside, Pauline Waters
ir;Blue-Eyed Black Boy exhibits the characteristics enumerated by Du B~is', such as "religious heart search ing," "peculiar wrenching of the soul," and "a sense of doubt and
31 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
bewilderment." She must plead with Jesus to get her son out of this predicament, as it was she who did wrong, not he. She almost lets the true identity of John's heritage slip when she says, "Let his father (she stops and looks around at the two women, then cautious) You un derstand all, I mean sweet Jesus-come down and rise with this wild
mob-Tonight- ... .» (51). Her intimacy with the Governor, the bio
logical father of her son, must compete with the loathing she feels for
the white lynch mob. It is indeed a "peculiar wrenching of the soul"
that reconnects her to the Governor. She produces a ring given to her by him-a ring that blurs the racial bounds, a symbol of interracial love, a love that will be the catalyst that commands the National
Guard troops to rescue John from the mob. The irony resides in the
fact that it is Pauline's relationship with a white man-her son's mixed blood-that saves him from death.
During this entire scene, the women either" move their lips in prayer" or invoke the name of Jesus or Lord. Hester, Pauline's best friend, calls out, "Jesus! Jesus! Please come down and help us this
night." To Pauline's daughter's plea: "Oh mother, mother what will
we do?" Pauline replies, "Trust in God daughter-I've got faith in
him, faith in-the Governor-he won't fail" (50). Here Pauline
demonstrates by her hesitation and her switch from trusting God to trusting him (the Governor) the horrendous double bind that con fronts her. She had loved the Governor and even now trusts him to save her son, yet she can never reveal the secret, as was the case with the mothers in Blue Blood. She is forever stuck in a liminal space be tween black and white worlds. Mrs. Waters, like Tillie Olsen," "stands there ironing," but it is evident that given her courage and sensibili ties, she surely was capable of more. Neurasthenia, caused by her double-consciousness, prevents a life lived outside the kitchen and thus she does not experience, as Kristeva would say, "completude." Of course, it is also the socially constructed fate of the black, espe cially black women, to be forever confined in the domestic sphere inside or outside her home-as servants.
Lynching, a phenomenon that became more pervasive with the
abolition of slavery, provided a vicious source of power for white su
premacists. It was a violent ritual, a common sacrifice experienced by
black men accused of everything from looking askance at a white woman to raping her. Although men were the physical victims,
women suffered emotionally and spiritually as witnesses to the tor
ture. They were the ones who must carryon without men to protect
them or provide for them. It is the women in the lynching plays whose only recourse was to pray, sing, and keep the faith.
In one of the recently discovered lynching plays by Johnson, "And Yet They Paused,":" we see this scenario reenacted again. Asked by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to write several plays to encourage the passage of a Con
gressional antilynching bill in 1938, Johnson described events in the
play that take place during a Congressional debate over the bill, and
also events drawn from the Congressional Record. The play is intrigu ing in that it is set in two locations, one at Washington in the Capital Building and one in a small black church in Mississippi. As the church members await word on the progress of the bill via telegraph, there is a black man accused of bootlegging liquor and a lynch mob is assem bled. The lynching is a particularly ugly one: the gang beats the man and even uses a blowtorch on him. The congregation has witnessed the horror but is sustained by their religious faith. The Reverend has no other recourse but to lead them in prayer:
Oh merciful Lawd, forgi ve me if I sin in Thy sight but Father I humbly pray that you sear the heart and conscience of these white people as they have seared the flesh of our brother and Lawd help us all to walk humbly and justly before Thee, Amen. (11)
Again, as in Sunday Morning and other plays, religion and a strong belief in a merciful Father maintain the blacks'courage and hope, but a filibuster prevents passage of the bill. The play ends with three spiritu als and the unison singing of the congregation: "Sisters don't get weary for the work is most done." The women who survive characteristically substitute the Godhead for the Father/husband/son/brother, a figure that is romanticized in prayer and song and one that is either absent or dead, that "unshakable illusion" that Kristeva refers to in her essay of the same name.
Another play, "A Bill to be Passed," located in the same folder of papers as the play just discussed, describes the successful passage of the bill in the House and ends with the hope of its passage in the Sen ate. A third play contains a four-page new ending that depicts the fili buster employed by Southern Senators that resulted in the defeat of
the Wagoner-Van Nuys Anti-Lynchjng Bill (Stephens vol. 33.3, 520).
In addition to the graphic descriptions
ofthe lynching scene in the
32 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze 33 REPORTER. I'm not a prophet nor the son of a prophet ... This
Bill MAY pass the house, BUT IT WON'T PASS THE
SENATE! . .. The administration is FOOLING the colored
ELDER. That's a terrible charge .. .
REPORTER. The President feels safer in the South at Warm Springs, Georgia, than at any other place in the Nation. This avoidance tactic by President Roosevelt lends a silent stamp of
approval to the Senate's reluctance to pass the bill. Johnson's courage in
expressing this in the play obviously influenced the NAACP in their decision not to publish her plays. Johnson was asked to write these lynching plays as propaganda in 1936-1937 by Walter White, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, but after several letters back and forth he re jected the plays saying "they all ended in defeat and gave one the feel ing that the situation was hopeless despite all the courage that was used by the Negro characters" (dated Jan 18, 1937 NAACP collection
C-299). Johnson's reply to Mr. White and his objections to the ending
of her lynching plays and his suggestions for changes were as follows: "I shall keep [it] in mind if I write others or perhaps rewrite these. They would lose their greatest dramatic moment though and a play depends so largely upon this" (jan, 20, 1937 NAACP). She again must object to those who want to soften the scenes of torture and the emphasis in the play on the futility of the appeal to Congress to vote for the antilynch ing bill. In this same letter Johnson refers to a man (Gypsy Drago) who, at twenty-nine, discovered he was black: "I have had him write me stories which I have re-written and typed." Johnson had these fur ther words to say: "He still wants to kill himself." Johnson refers later to Drago in a letter written to her friend Harold Jackman on March 31, 1945 (quoted in the Hull biography): "Do write Drago. He is blue and still moving about.... He has three children now-all boys-all white" and Drago shows that he is near suicide in a letter addressed to Johnson from Paul Tremaine:
I do not believe in God nor man nor anything much. . . . I am neither white nor black. The saddest part of it all is that I look too white to be ever taken for a black man. So I am an outcast. (198)
Here is a stunning real-life testament to the depression and per sonality problems that are the ramifications of being of mixed racial
heritage. The pity of the situation is enlarged by the fact there exists in
the 1930s no recourse to psychiatric assistance for blacks . The fact that
this man was blond adds to his shock and mental anguish upon learn ing he is part "Negro." Another reason for so much despair, on not only Gypsy Drago's part but also other blacks and Americans of mixed race, was the lack of support for their cause, and the fact that in general the white population turned a blind eye toward inhuman prac tices such as lynchings. President Roosevelt did not publicly give his support to the antilynching bill, and later, during World War II, he de creed that the armed forces would be segregated. This is another ex ample of the schizophrenia that is at the core of our American culture.
In other papers housed at the Library of Congress, in the NAACP collection, there is another interesting letter addressed to Johnson concerning the play "And Yet They Paused." The letter, written by a Mr. Morrow, who was considering the play for a radio production, criticizes the play severely for its "broken and bad En glish; helplessly calling upon the Lord when disaster overtakes us; referring to our inability to hold meetings on time and over emphasizing spirituals." He further suggests that "we should at all times show the public a phase of our culture that so many people do not believe we have" (jan, 25, 1938 NAACP). Clearly, the leadership of the NAACP did not want realism as depicted by Johnson, but a faux depiction of the events in Mississippi. Here again, Mr. Morrow,
unlike Johnson, seems to experience a double-consciousness, a self
conscious gaze that encourages him to put a white face on black re
ality, thus causing the black identity to be submerged and to present
a false self to the world lest the authentic one be destroyed. No one
seemed to realize the importance and psychological implications of
the religious scenes, the central place religion and song played in the lives of these tortured African Americans-a means to sustain their
sanity. Also, there was a lack of sensitivity to the artistic genius of
juxtaposing the horror of the lynching, and the congressional debate with the church scenes of prayer and song, underscoring the spiritu ality and humanity of the blacks versus the brutality of the white
supremacy movement. Mr. Morrow also objects to Johnson's graphic
scenes of torture:
Perhaps one or two short and well-directed speeches portraying the horror and the disintegrating effects of this evilwould go just as far in the creating the desired effect upon the conscience of the American people ...
35 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
Georgia Johnson not only suffered the setbacks, rejection, and criticism I have just alluded to, but she was unable to convince her own people of her worth as a playwright. And in spite of her numer ous revisions, the NAACP executives and other members of the black patriarchy constantly ignored her worth. She, as Claudia Tate so aptly states, "learned to mediate female desire within the parameters of a racially contested black patriarchy in which the fair-skinned woman was the esteemed sexual object"
(Works xvii),But this, over the years, took its toll, I believe, on her psyche. She was a mulatta who was caught between the worlds of white and black, male and female, artist and mother. Her only recourse was her writing. Like the music in the Walkman of Kristeva's patient, it kept her personal demons at bay. In the 1940s she expressed to Harold Jackman her futile attempts at pub lishing the enormous amount of writings she had accumulated: Have about eight books here ready to get going-three new books of poetry, thirtyplays .. . thirty short stories,a novel, a book of philosophy ... twenty songs.... (Hull 189)
Surrounded by piles of paper and stray cats and dogs, she dubbed her abode the Half- Way House. Owen Dodson, playwright, describes her habit of taking in stray dogs, cats, and people:
Mostlyartists who were out of money. People like Zora Neale Hurston who stayed there. .. . The house was a mess! You've never been in any house like it! When you entered the Halfway you knew you were entering another country. (Hull 187)
Johnson's chaotic house, scattered writings and lack of focus sug gest a fragmentation, a manic and even a nonfunctional neurasthenia, a condition that remained with her until her death. It is my opinion that the rejection of her lynching dramas, especially by the NAACP, con tributed in a large way to her depression and general malaise.
In her 1999 article "Racial Violence and Representation: Perfor mance Strategies in Lynching Dramas of the 1920s," Judith Stephens makes the point that:
Lynching dramas, then, provide insight into an understanding of race as a so cial construct in the United States since they reflect a distinctly American phenomenon shaped by the African American struggle for survival in a white dominated culture. (655)
I agree with Stephens' views and see the acceptance of the lynch ing ritual by the general population as a means of perpetuating the practice and the perception of blacks as evil and bestial. Color was then and is now equated with negative, "lack," or nonbeing. Their color, a constant source of degradation by whites in power, placed blacks under a judgmental and prejudiced gaze, one that Foucault describes in
The Birth of the Clinicin relation to the diagnosis of dis ease in the eighteenth century. The gaze, which in its primitive form was the chief diagnostic tool in the eighteenth century, penetrated the body's outer surface only, leaving it to the elitist few to decide "the truth" of diagnosis without input from the patient or the bene fit of cadaver dissection. The light of truth was projected from above from the eye of the male physician
(Clinic107-109). Later in the cen tury, the patient was included in the equation of diagnosis. In the preface to
The Birth of the Clinic,Foucault describes how the gaze evolved from the subjective scrutiny in the age of Descartes to a more objective gaze that allowed the discourse to emerge from within the patient rather than the light of truth to be imposed from without or above.
No light could now dissolve them in ideal truths, but the gaze directed upon them would, in turn, awaken them and make them stand out against a back ground of objectivity.The gaze is no longer reductive; it is, rather, that which establishes the individual in his irreducible quality. (xiv)
Like the earlier physicians, the white population overlooks with an impure gaze what is under the skin of the black person. The dis course is contrived and predetermined by the elite and avoids any in teraction or history from the patient, or in this case, the black. The gaze is a reductive one, judging intellect and behavior superficially. Even today, we are, as a culture, "color struck," seeing but not know ing. According to Foucault, the pure gaze is one that "lets things sur face to the observing gaze without disturbing them, without discourse" (xix). Lynching and the discourse accompanying it rein forced the general view of black as evil, bestial, and lazy.
The discourse is scripted and imposed as soon as the gaze encoun ters black skin. This phenomenon is never so clearly illustrated as in the following scene inA
in the South.The police ar rive at the house of Tom Griggs who is suspected of attacking a white woman. Even though his grandmother confirms that he was at home
37 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze
asleep when the attack took place, the officer persists. I feel it is important and relative enough to be quoted in its entirety.
TOM. Gramma told you. I was right here at home-in bed at eight o'clock.
FIRST OFFICER. That sounds fishy to me-in bed at eight
o'clock! And who else knew you were here?
SUE. Say, Mr. Officer, what you trying to do to my grandson. Shore as God Almighty is up in them heaben he was right here in bed, I seed him and his little brother Bossie there saw him, didn't you Bossie?
BOSSIE. Yessum, I seed him and I heered him!
FIRST OFFICER. Shut up! Your word's nothing. (looking at Sue) Nor yours either. Both of yo u 'd lie for him. (Steps back to back door and makes a sign to someone outside, then comes back into the room taking a piece of paper from his
vest pocket and reads slowly, looking at Tom critically as he checks each item) Age around twenty, five feet five or six, brown skin . . . Yep! Fits like a glove.
Another Officer brings in a young white woman and she is interro
SECOND OFFICER. Is this the man?
WHITE GIRL. I-I'm not sure ... but ... but he looks some thing like him ... (holding back)
FIRST OFFICER. Take a good look, Miss. He fits your descrip
tion perfect. Color, size, age, everything. We got it all figured out. (to Girl who looks down at her feet) You say he looks like him?
WHITE GIRL. Y-e-s (slowly and undecidedly) ... I think so.
Tom is then quickly handcuffed and arrested, a victim of what we would call today "racial profiling," a practice that has not disappeared with time. Sue, Tom's grandmother, has it right when she declares (in reference to the white girl's testimony): "All Niggers look alike to her .. ." (35). To be lynched or not is all decided by the coercion of the
"loo k" -he's young, he's male and he's black. The ontological insecu
rity, lack of self-esteem and marginality that this profiling fosters
translates into an ambivalence about one's racial heritage and a love-hate attitude toward oneself and one's racial peers.
The treatment of the poor and the insane in the eighteenth century prefigures the racial profiling we find in Johnson's early lynching plays. Those lynchings prefigure the same horrendous practices that occur today-blacks stopped, arrested, and even shot, as in the case of the more recent incident in New York, where the victim was shot forty-one times,'! This pervasive victimization points to an overarch
ing societal problem that targets innocent persons of color, victims of a pathological white gaze, that signals a signifier of the paranoia and guilt buried in the consciousness of the majority. Georgia Johnson tried to get her message across about lynching but her plays were sup pressed. Perhaps if the public had been witness to her plays, johnson's images and dialogue might have probed the consciousness of her audi ences and effected change or the predisposition for change.
138 "Color Struck" Under the Gaze New York Times article (7 January 1996), "Sure We're All Just One Big Happy Family," rails against a media that fosters racial sameness. The interracial buddy system is now pervasive; Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Miss Daisy (jessica Tandy) and Morgan Freeman, Bobby's partners in The Practice. We are fed history, claims DeMott, that is served in a pablum of romance-civil rights and slavery couched in stories of "happy black-white collaboration." The prob lem resides in the illusory perceptions of audiences who are condi tioned by a gaze that reflects an equality that simply does not exist. DeMott's query and answer seems to make a lot of sense: "Why is white America so dumb about racial divisions? Because popular cul ture has sold the notion that the races have achieved equality" (2). Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won Oscars in 2002. In Halle's case, she is buddied up in Monster's Ball with Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a white racist who reforms because of her charm. Her role in the film is not beyond the stereotypical servant who is dominated by her white master. DeMott can add another "buddy team" to his list. If a dark-skinned African American or Latino is lucky enough to be a great athlete, they can achieve success and fame, but, in general, our population still looks down on people of color, mixed racial couples, and mulattoes with a gaze that is as superior and superficial as that of the physicians of the Enlightenment who presumed to know what lay beneath. It is valuable to be handsome, thin, and light-skinned-to be photogenic-telegenic; any candidate for office must spend millions to buy television time-elections hang on the "Look." Therefore, we must present false selves to the world. Vision, the visual, is replacing the spoken and written word. Even among those of the same culture and race, meaningful dialogue is disappearing. Reliance on the visible objectifies humanity and ironically underscores invisibility or the "nonbeing" of madness. These phenomena carry the high price of alienation and personality disorders-a pathology of being. We are as obsessed with appearance and are as color phobic now as we were when Zora Neale Hurston wrote her first play. She had it right when she burst into the Opportunity Awards dinner shouting the title of her play, "Color Struck!" It is an interjection applicable to all races and colors, to their oppression, depression and split identities-an outcry that will resonate far into the future.
1. R. D. Laing defines ontological insecurity as being in opposition to ontological security: when a person can encounter all the hazards of life, so cial, ethical, spiritual, biological, from a centrally firm sense of his own and other people'S reality and identity (Laing 39).
2. Gloria Hull in Color, Sex, and Poetry says " ... GDJ seems to have been particularly fond of an unusually large number of homosexuals Harold Jackman, Glen Carrington, Angelina Grimke, Alain Locke .. ." (187). The list goes on. Hull also alludes to a sexual relationship with Grimke.
3. The New Negro discussion group was started in the early 1920s and continued for about ten years. Johnson, Toomer, and the other members, such as Alain Locke and Mary Burrill, were allmulattoes. Toomer describes the pur pose of the group: "to arrive at a sound and just criticism of the actual place and condition of the mixed-blood group in this country and to formulate an ideal that would be both workable and inclusive." The New Negro would be formu lated from a miscegenation that excluded African blood lines (Hutchinson 686).
4. Johnson was introduced to Carl Sandburg in 1926 during a trip to Chicago. She also met Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetry magazine (Hu11167).
5. Kristeva explains this notion of metaphorical identification and its significance in the analysis process this way: "Metaphor should be under
stood as movement towards the discernjble, a journey towards the visible.... The object of love is a metaphor for the subject .. . which by having it choose an adored part of the loved one, already locates it within the symbolic code of