The Common Good

The Criminality Of Blackness

Date: March 25, 2014

There is a moment in John Steinbeck's classic, East of Eden, when readers witness the transformation of a stereotype into a human being.

Set in Salinas Valley, California, around the turn of the 20th century, Samuel Hamilton picks up Lee, his friend's Chinese servant. Lee wears a queue and speaks Pidgin English. Moments after meeting him, Hamilton learns that Lee was born in the U.S. and asks why he still can't speak English.

Lee's face and eyes soften and he speaks perfect English, explaining that he speaks Pidgin for the whites in town to understand him. Lee says, "You see what is, where most people see what they expect."