Race and Little Women

Louisa May Alcott would be fascinated to hear and read the discussions about diversity and literature-turned-into-films.

Alcott, the author of Little Women, was way, way ahead of her time, and she pushed hard against the prejudices against women in her 19th-century life.

It is, to borrow a handy phrase from the Episcopal liturgy, “very meet, right, and our bounden duty” to question the profound whiteness of Hollywood’s offerings. But questioning it without thoughtful context and lots of intelligently articulated personal responses from readers and viewers of all colors leads to flaccid conclusions.

One of the sharpest ruminations I’ve seen is the piece by Kaitlyn Greenidge, an author and regular contributor to the New York Times: “The Bearable Whiteness of ‘Little Women’ ” (1/13/2020) .

She makes this point:

So when we as black girls read most books, we have to will ourselves into the bodies on the page, with a selectivity and an internal edit that white readers of the same canon do not necessarily have to exercise.

And she does not stop there. She places that astute observation alongside her memory of childhood reading, particularly the emotional and intellectual process she instinctively moved through to make A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a personal, relevant story. She also captures the peculiar delight of post-moviegoing dissection with her sisters.

Opinion pieces, when done well, introduce readers to other ways of seeing the world and challenge tightly-held beliefs. Greenidge has a gift for this kind of writing.

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