Thursday, August 28, 2014

Toni Morrison's 1975 lecture on race, politics, and art freed me to say, "Do your own work!" (Audio)

Here is the audio of a lecture novelist and scholar Toni Morrison delivered in 1975 in Portland, Oregon. It includes the question and answer period and is posted on the Portland library's Sound Cloud page. Portland University's Special Collections describes the audio:
This discussion, presented by the Portland State Black Studies Center, was Part 2 of 2 in a "Public Dialogue on the American Dream Theme." Panel members were novelist Toni Morrison, poet and PSU professor Primus St. John, Lewis & Clark professor John Callahan, Judy Callahan, and Lloyd Baker.
The audio quality could be better, but I listened to it and then searched for the transcript, which I found at Dr. Keisha E. McKenzie's website.

Here is the Morrison quote that resonated with me:
"[K]now the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing."
When I first saw that quote on Facebook, before I knew its source in Morrison's ouvre, I felt it so deeply that I immediately knew it was true, and grasping that truth liberated me. I decided to stop blacksplaining Black people to White people, which is something too many White people on the Internet demand that Black people do. They approach with direct questions or uninformed comments. "How can you say that?" or "Slavery's in the past. Why can't Black people get over it?" or "If you people wouldn't talk about race, we would not have these problems."

Some White people think it's Black people's obligation to explain to White people the Euro-American (White)-construct of Blackness that their ancestors created and they perpetuate. They demand that we explain how it operates to oppress us, never acknowledging that structural racism exists and continues to oppress us. They also seem to think that they get to define what racism is and is not just as their ancestors sought to define us.

I don't mean that I won't ever write another essay on race in America. I mean that I will attempt to avoid answering those White people in depth who rudely or disrespectfully respond to anything I've written or said in a way that shows me they either did not read my essay or blog post. I tend to provide links and sources to support what I say, so I think commenters are stupid when they ask questions for which a detailed response is readily found in the essay itself.

If someone doesn't have enough respect for the work on the page or screen to read what's already been said and to check out the links or sources before they challenge assertions, then I don't have enough respect for that person to respond to the foolish comment. Usually people's resistance to reading and checking out sources indicates they really don't want to know about the Black struggle and are set on insulting my intelligence, so then I'm through. It's as simple as that. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a dumb question or comment.

And I will take and have taken this approach with Black people, too, who don't know their own history and ask questions disrespectfully or whose comment shows that they are coming strictly from an ideological perspective without any foundation in history and current facts. In general, I mean Black people who think that because they are Black they can say the same dumb crap that racist White people say and engage me. NO. For instance, don't begin speaking to me with false statements such as, "If our youth would pull up their pants, everything would be wonderful and the police would not bother them."

However, if the person seems to sincerely want to have a conversation and listen because they read my essay or post, then that's different. We can talk. I'll listen to them and respond. But I reserve the right to respond with a reading list.

Here is the Portland lecture:

I also appreciated this clip from an interview with the author.

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