KU in Wichita
This annual event, hosted by the Hall Center, is part of an ongoing and expanding initiative that brings the outstanding and exciting scholarship produced by KU humanities faculty to diverse communities across the state. Each year we look forward to spending time with our neighbors in Wichita and to sharing with them programming that demonstrates the continued significance and relevance of the humanities in our contemporary world.
This event is made possible by the generous support of the Lattner Family Foundation, Hall Center Advisory Board Chair Jill Docking, and the KU Alumni Association's Wichita Chapter.
"Getting to the Root of US Healthcare Injustices through Toni Morrison’s Root Workers"
Giselle Anatol, Associate Professor of English, Interim Director, Hall Center for the Humanities
WED APR 12, 6:00 - 8:30 PM
WICHITA ART MUSEUM
Although a number of scholars have tackled the figure of the Black folk-healer in Toni Morrison’s novels, the character deserves greater attention in the present moment for the insights she provides into two contemporary catastrophes: the coronavirus pandemic and the structural racism that precipitates rampant violence against brown-skinned people in the United States. Beginning with M’Dear, the elderly woman who is brought in to treat Cholly’s Aunt Jimmy in The Bluest Eye, Professor Giselle Anatol surveys descriptions of several root workers, hoodoo practitioners, and midwives in Morrison’s fiction, including Ajax’s mother in Sula and Milkman’s aunt Pilate in Song of Solomon. Morrison’s portraits of these women and their communities capture the endurance of African folk customs, the undervalued knowledge of aged members of society, and a sense of Black women’s strength beyond that of the physical, laboring, or hypersexual body. The fictional experiences of Morrison’s healers also alert readers to the very real injustices that have historically impeded the successes of African Americans—and continue to hamper them, as has been exposed during the COVID-19 crisis and public outrages over police brutality. These injustices include inequities in lifelong earning potential, education, housing, and access to healthcare. Paying closer attention to the Nobel Laureate’s root-working women makes her novels more than simply “transformative” and “empowering” for individual readers; analyzing these figures allows one to unearth important critiques of medical bias and other forms of discrimination against marginalized members of society—disparities that must be dismantled in the push for social change.