In Her Own Words: Tony Morrison on White Supremacy and White Feminism

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning author, died Monday, Aug. 5, 2019 at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was 88. She is pictured here at a tribute to Chinua Achebe on the 50-year anniversary of “Things Fall Apart,” Feb. 26, 2008. Photo: Angela Radulescu/Flickr

This morning the world woke up to learn beloved literary icon and author Toni Morrison died at age 88 last night. Though many are mourning the loss of such an incomparable queen, there is some solace in the fact that Morrison’s powerful words and contributions to the culture will continue to live on.

As we remember Morrison’s brave soul, we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight her willingness to rage against the machine and call out white supremacy at the highest levels. As recently as 2016, Morrison was still using her gift of writing to highlight injustice in American society when she penned “Make America White Again” for The New Yorker.

President Barack Obama awards author Toni Morrison with a Medal of Freedom, Tuesday, May 29, 2012, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Here are some of her thoughts on white supremacy, racism, Black literature and white feminism in her own words.

On Feminism:

“In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can’t take positions that are closed. Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book – leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity.”

It’s “off-putting to some readers, who may feel that I’m involved in writing some kind of feminist tract. I don’t subscribe to patriarchy, and I don’t think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it’s a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things.”

On the Difference Between White feminism and Black feminism:

“Womanists is what Black feminists used to call themselves … They were not the same thing. And also the relationship with men. Historically, Black women have always sheltered their men because they were out there, and they were the ones that were most likely to be killed.”

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Part 2: Jamarlin Martin talks to communications advisor and author Jamilah Lemieux. They discuss the cultural debasement of “hotep,” Black feminism, and when “voting white” is the real voting Black. They also discuss Jamilah’s role in the Cynthia Nixon campaign for governor.

On White Supremacy:

“In order to limit the possibility of this untenable change, and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker of national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things they clearly don’t really want to be doing, and, to do so, they are (1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and (2) risking the appearance of cowardice. Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. Embarrassing as the obvious display of cowardice must be, they are willing to set fire to churches, and to start firing in them while the members are at prayer. And, shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are, they are willing to shoot Black children in the street.”

“To keep alive the perception of white superiority, these white Americans tuck their heads under cone-shaped hats and American flags and deny themselves the dignity of face-to-face confrontation, training their guns on the unarmed, the innocent, the scared, on subjects who are running away, exposing their unthreatening backs to bullets. Surely, shooting a fleeing man in the back hurts the presumption of white strength? The sad plight of grown white men, crouching beneath their (better) selves, to slaughter the innocent during traffic stops, to push Black women’s faces into the dirt, to handcuff Black children. Only the frightened would do that. Right?”

On Racism:

“Don’t you understand that the people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft. There is something disturbed about the psyche. It’s a huge waste and it’s a corruption and it’s a distortion. It’s like it’s a profound rosis that nobody examines for what it is. It feels crazy. It is crazy. And … it has just as much of a deleterious effect on white people , and possibly equal, as it does Black people.”

On Writing About Race and Black Characters Exclusively:

“Yes I can write about white people. White people can write about Black people. Anything can happen in art. There are no boundaries there. Having to prove that I can do it is what was embarrassing or insulting – and I did. … The question was posed as though it were a desirable thing to do to write about white people, or to write not about race. That’s what that means to me and that it was difficult to do, a higher level of artistic endeavor or that it was more important that I was still writing about marginal people and why don’t I come into the mainstream. … What does that question mean? I tonly works if I can go to somebody major white and say as a journalist (can you write about Black people. If I can say when are you going to write about Black people to a white writer, if that’s al legitimate question to a white writer then it’s a legitimate question to me. I just don’t think it is.”

Rest in power queen. You will certainly be missed.