The most historic utterances of a prestigious African American author.
“The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.”
The annual Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality was presented on December 6 by Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, Princeton University, and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a talk titled “Goodness: Altruism and the Literary Imagination,” she explored how authors illuminate concepts of good and evil. She also examined the treatment of goodness in her own novels.
Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, M.A. ’55, returned to Cornell March 7, 2013 for a conversation about literature, politics and, especially, language. She answered questions posed to her by longtime friend and colleague Claudia Brodsky, a professor of comparative literature at Princeton University.
Few intellectuals have waged a public battle against white supremacy and patriarchy like Toni Morrison. Morrison has both examined and challenged systems of domination throughout her intellectual life. With her novels, essays, and interviews she has taken critical looks at the interlocking systems of race and gender oppression. In this interview she is asked by PBS’s Charlie Rose what it is like for her to encounter racism. In true Morrison fashion she turns the question on its head, and places the onus for explaining racism back into the hands of White people. She asks Rose what he thinks of racism, why do Whites hold onto, and what are they going to do about it ending it. She rejects the notion that racism is simply something that Black people must grapple with, insisting, demanding, that White people also grapple with it. Fearless. Brilliant. Powerful.
Toni Morrison has always taken for granted the centrality of Blackness in her novels. She has refused throughout her writing career to privilege “Whiteness” in her literary works. In this clip, Toni Morrison discusses the way she felt when interview Bill Moyers asked her when she would write about white people, as if this was something she should be interested in doing. She refuses to accept the idea that writing about Black people is not “real writing,” and that Black writers must engage with White characters or the White world in order for their writing to be legitimate. She will not privilege White people, nor will she explain things to White readers.
World-renowned novelist Toni Morrison said that brutal violence against African-Americans was so commonplace throughout much of the 20th century that it was almost casual how it came to shape their lives in that era.
“Each is a story of humiliation, of degradation, and—very often—of blood,” said Morrison, a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. “To revive these stories, to put them on display, is almost as important as the original justice could have been.”