Go Too-Too Girls!

Before I even get into the main subject of this post, I just want to return briefly to the video that we began class with. Wow. Part of me is still in disbelief of Diane Abrams’ behavior. Sure it’s not uncommon for interviewees to get cut off from time to time, but this was something else. It was as though Abrams couldn’t stand to let Flo Kennedy be the focus of her own show, to the point where she seemed insistent on cutting her off or changing the subject every time Kennedy began to express herself. As one of our classmates summed it up humorously, “Kennedy had to guest-star in her own show, on an episode that was supposed to be all about her!”

 

Still, there’s another part of me that can easily see any member of white America behaving similarly to Abrams when put in her position. I was dying to know exactly what was going through Abrams’ mind as she continuously cut Kennedy off and continued to smile while ignoring every subtle look of annoyance cast by Kennedy. But thinking about it now, I don’t think there were any conscious thoughts going through Abrams’ mind. I think her behavior stems from a deeply seeded combination of racism and sexism that told her implicitly that Kennedy may not be adept at expressing herself, and so without thinking much, she decided she would relay Kennedy’s thoughts for her. It may have been even more frustrating had it been a white man who interviewed Kennedy, but even as a white woman, Abrams’ assumption that she should speak for Kennedy (when Kennedy, as we know, is the far more accomplished and profound intellectual between the two), really shows the extent of racial ignorance among white America.

 

The main thing I’d like to comment on is Ann Petry’s “In Darkness and Confusion,” and in particular, the too-too girls. These are the women who, in the opinion of William Jones, the protagonist, wear too much make up, are too skinny, wear skirts that are too short, talk too loud, and laugh too loud. Hence the name, too-too girls. While they may not attend the organizational meetings that Petry did herself, they are undeniably a big presence on the streets of Harlem.

 

Most black folk like Jones cannot understand the behavior of the too-too girls, and despise them as a result. To Jones, these women show a complete lack of respectability and dismissal of appropriate behavior. It’s as though they’re stepping outside the boundaries, failing to understand how life works, and trying to get more out of it than they should expect to receive.

 

Finally, the event that triggers the riots, Jones witnesses a too-too girl struggling with a white police officer. A black soldier, just like his son, tries to grab the officer, the officer pulls out his gun, and shoots the soldier as he turns to run. As the crowd forms and begins to start a riot, Jones sees his niece, Annie May, whom he labels as one of the too-too girls, and whom he has always held in low esteem compared to his son. But it is at this moment in the crowd that he realizes that the too-too girls are no different from his son. They deal with the same discrimination, the same shitty jobs, and they grow just as tired of always getting the short end of things just because they’re black.
I think the too-too girls stand for a lot, and they can teach us a lot. First, they highlight the sometimes sharp divisions within the same social or racial group of people. Here we have a black community that’s almost entirely working class, and yet unification is still incredibly hard to achieve. So easily, people want to find reasons to separate themselves from or even look down on those who appear different from themselves. Secondly, the too-too girls, when looked at closely, are really the catalysts for social change. They may not be the direct cause, but their behavior has profound effects on the people around them. I see them as the rebels, who are not content to live the life that has been set out for them, with all its limitations and such, but who instead seek to find more from life than what they are given. Because they break many social norms, they have the power to light the fires for social change, or at the minimum, to force people around them to question the social rules that most people are so accustomed to. Finally, the too-too girls are proof of the unity that can be created in times of violent social change. As the crowds form and the riots begin in Harlem, some invisible social barrier collapses, and Harlemites see eye to eye with one another, including the too-too girls who were often the most ostracized. I think this shows that the most unity is often achieved during riots or other sudden group actions.

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One thought on “Go Too-Too Girls!

  1. I would really like to explore with you all a concept which keeps cropping up: “respectability.” “Politics of respectability.” “Ratchet Respectability.” What is respectability all about? Is it a site of resistance? Or is it a sign of assimilation? What do you think?

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