Toni Morrison’s Questions
Her famous Charlie Rose interview is instructive for today
Years ago, in an interview on the Charlie Rose Show, the Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison asked and said what millions of people try to ask and say everyday about American racism.
Here’s an excerpt:
“What are you without racism? Are you any good?…Do you still like yourself?”
Morrison, in the same interview, also stated that she was not “a victim” and refused to be one (my parents always told all of their children to hold fast to this). She stated growing up she always felt she was morally superior to white people even though they treated her second class and denied her access to a normal life in America. It was an amazing response.
It is the question that yet is not faced collectively and individually in America. It is the question that African Americans and other Americans are talking about when they say, America has yet to deal with race or its racial past. This is because dealing with race, according to Morrison, has little to do with African Americans.
She refers to people who perpetuate racism, who practice it, and who are not trying to struggle with it, as “bereft.” They are suffering some kind of sickness, a “neurosis,” she said.
Her point is do they even understand that “race” is not real. They have created something and live something that is not an actual reality but is a created construct. The race question is mostly viewed, according to Morrison by what white supremacy does to the African Americans. Yet, Morrison stated that racism has a destructive effect on those who call themselves white as well because they are the perpetrators of something evil.
This is where the Brown v. Board of Education decision got it all wrong and much of the civil rights jurisprudence that comes out of Brown. The decision, though necessary and important, focused completely on the damage done to African American children. It did not focus upon the damage that had been done for generations to white children and white people.
Even more destructive, the decision does not dismantle the racial caste system of whiteness. It does end “separate but equal” as a legal doctrine, but the caste system…