Here’s What Those Mourning Over Victims Of The El Paso And Dayton Shootings Can Takeaway From Toni Morrison’s Death
Today, Toni Morrison, the first Black woman to receive the Novel Prize in literature died at 88.
Known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved, Morrison meant a lot to many communities. She reshaped American literature, she gave a voice and paved a path for future generations of Black women writers, she was unapologetically herself, she flawlessly wrote about the complexities of the Black experience in America. Above all, she didn’t just write for writing’s sake, she transformed American thought and others’ way of being with her words that still ring true today.
Morrison was one of the most important American writers of the 20th century and her words will forever stay with the communities she wrote about and the lives of those she touched.
Morrison, who wrote a total of 11 novels, had a career in publishing before she became an award-winning novelist. Aside from being the first Black woman to receive the Pulitzer Price in literature, she was also the first Black woman senior editor at Random House. In a statement released Tuesday morning, her family and publisher Knopf confirmed the death of Morrison. She died Montefiore Medical Center in New York on Monday night after a brief illness.
Through her writing, she made a point to not write through the “white gaze” and focused on amplifying the Black experience through themes including “slavery, misogyny, colorism, and supernaturalism.” Outside of her writing, Morrison continued to do the same. In multiple interviews, published essays, and other works, she continued to put a mirror in front of American society and show it its true colors.
Morrison not only transformed American literature with her novels, but she also transformed American society by reminding us to resist racism and white supremacy.
In an interview with NPR’s Michel Martin in 2008, Morrison spoke about why she doesn’t believe in using the word “post-racial” to describe society. In the interview, she was discussing her book “A Mercy” — her 9th novel that revealed what lies beneath the surface of slavery in early America, following the story of mothers and daughters — which takes place in a “pre-racial” time.
“It seems to indicate something that I don’t think is quite true, which is that we have erased racism from the country, and that certainly isn’t true — or the world,” Morrison said. “Racism will disappear when it’s: no longer profitable, and no longer psychologically useful. When that happens, it’ll be gone.”
She went on to say that at the moment, people continued to make a lot of money off of it and that it protects people “from a certain kind of pain.”
This sentiment still rings true when we think of 2016, a time in which a racist man with disgusting views and ideals of the world took the Oval Office. It also applies to 2019, where Morrison’s last days saw 2 mass shootings within the span of hours and immigrant children and families continue to be ripped apart at the border. More particularly it applies in an era where America continues to profit off marginalized communities and thrive off racist rhetoric. So, like Morrison states, we don’t live in a post-racial time.
“If you take racism away from certain people — I mean vitriolic racists as well as the sort of, social racist — if you take that away, they may have to face something really terrible: misery, self-misery, and deep pain about who they are,” Morrison continued. “It’s just easier to say that one over there is the cause of all my problems.”
This interview was only one of many where Morrison dropped some serious gems about racism and white supremacy in America.
In an interview from 1993 with Charlie Rose, she spoke about racism being a moral issue because it had become a quality that defined so many people.
“If I take your race away, and there you are, all strung out. And all you got is your little self, and what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself?” she said in the interview with Rose.
The world will continue to mourn Toni Morrison’s death and honor the lasting impact she left behind with her writing.
Today, everyone who loved Morrison — from readers, fans, to politicians — are sharing what the writer meant to them and the difference she made in their lives.
The Paris Review shared a tweet following the announcement of her death where they said Morrison “influenced just about every English-language writer currently working.”
Texas Congressman and brother of 2020 presidential hopeful, Julian Castro, Joaquin Castro shared an impactful quote on oppressive language as violence.
The theme of oppressive language resonates more than ever today, especially when the current president of the U.S. uses language as violence to further marginalize and demonize communities of color.
“We have lost a stunning storyteller, unmatched in her imagination and power. She will be deeply missed,” Castro added in another tweet.
Oprah, who has interviewed Morrison in the past and who also starred in the film adaption of Beloved, shared what her death meant to her on Instagram.
“She was a magician with language, who understood the Power of words. She used them to roil us, to wake us, to educate us and help us grapple with our deepest wounds and try to comprehend them,” Oprah wrote of Morrison.
California Senator and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Kamala Harris also shared a tweet about how we’ve lost one of the greatest voices and storytellers of our time.
“Her work gave us power, hope & freedom,” Harris tweeted.
Author and “Project Runway” star Elaine Welteroth stressed the path Morrison paved for Black women everywhere.
“Because there simply would be no me if there hadn’t been you,” Welteroth said in her Instagram caption.
Afro-Dominicana author and storyteller, Elizabeth Acevedo, referred to Morrison as a “curandera” because of her writing.
“She was so many things. Yes, brilliant, but so witty, purposeful, methodical in her gestures, thoughtful in her answers & a seer, I believe. A curandera. She’s left us so much. And I’m not sure she’s left us at all,” Acevedo wrote in her tweet.
Lastly, former president Barack Obama, who awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, also shared a touching tribute.
In 2012, when he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he called her works “hallmarks of the American literary tradition. “What a gift to breathe the same air as her, if only for a while,” Obama tweeted.
Morrison’s novels and her thoughts on how to resist racism will forever leave an impact on our lives and society. Whether you’ve read her work before or not, it’s never too late to revisit it or to start.