This essay argues that the dynamic between flat emotions and transformative flesh in Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child engages the strategies and failures of racial liberalism. I define racial liberalism as the US’s rights-based approach to racial justice across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that frames racism as a private, psychological drama of emotions. By veering away from strong emotions and the liberal subject and toward affect and materiality, Morrison shifts blame away from individual victims and perpetrators and instead highlights the harm of larger, administratively “neutral” systems like the law and the prison industrial complex.
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