Black women have been able to envy white women (their looks, their easy life, the attention they seem to get from men); they could fear them (for the economic control they have had over black women’s lives) and even love them (as mammies and domestic workers can); but black women have found it impossible to respect white women. I mean they never had what black men have had for white men—a feeling of awe at their accomplishments. Black women have no abiding admiration of white women as competent, complete people. Whether vying with them for the few professional slots available to women in general, or moving their dirt from one place to another, they regarded them as willful children, pretty children, mean children, ugly children, but never as real adults capable of handling the real problems of the world.
Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.
I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.
If there were no black people here in this country, it would have been Balkanized. The immigrants would have torn each other’s throats out, as they have done everywhere else. But in becoming an American, from Europe, what one has in common with that other immigrant is contempt for me—it’s nothing else but color. Wherever they were from, they would stand together. They could all say, “I am not that.” So in that sense, becoming an American is based on an attitude: an exclusion of me. It wasn’t negative to them—it was unifying. When they got off the boat, the second word they learned was “n***er.” Ask them—I grew up with them. I remember in the fifth grade a smart little boy who had just arrived and didn’t speak any English. He sat next to me. I read well, and I taught him to read just by doing it. I remember the moment he found out that I was black—a n***er. It took him six months; he was told. And that’s the moment when he belonged, that was his entrance. Every immigrant knew he would not come at the very bottom. He had to come above at least one group—and that was us.
Toni Morrison in The Pain of Being Black (via queerblackandproud)
Truth. Gosh this also has me thinking how even African immigrants come in a step above Black Americans, and are able to see more class mobility partly because of this phenomenon…
See also: How the Irish Became White
…No group in the world has had more money spent on it to have its genetics examined, its fecundity stopped, its intelligence measured. (Who are these people who know our sperm count but not our names?) Yet despite years, despite decades of such academic energy, there is very little scholarly recognition that a major part of American history is the history of black people: how they influenced whites and how whites influenced them. There are very few examinations of U.S. economics as the growth of a country that had generations of free labor to assure that growth. Or of the legal history of this country as primarily the efforts of the courts to contain blacks. Nor is there much notice paid to the fact that anthropology is pretty much limited to the study of the black peoples of the world. Not only are white historians and social scientists un-interested in examining their own poor, they seem never to consider directing their probes to the incidents of incest or bastardy among the rich.
Toni Morrison is an inspiration!
Rediscovering Black History. Review of The Black Book. New York Times Magazine (11 August 1974): 14+ Reprinted by the permission of International Creative Management, Inc. Copyright 1974 by Toni Morrison.
from What Moves at the Margin; Selected Non-Fiction Edited and with an Introduction by Carolyn C. Denard. 2008.