My Thank You Letter To Toni Morrison

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I’ll never forget the moment I finished reading Sula by Toni Morrison.

I closed the book and then cried.

I cried at how beautifully the story was written, I cried at the powerful revelation Nel (one of the main protagonists) has at the end, and I cried out in relief. Relief that, for once, both black and female characters were shown in all their glory – and flaws – outside of the white male gaze.

Their sense of self was not created based on how white America perceived them, but on how they perceived themselves. And as a gay black writer born on the East Coast, that felt revolutionary to me.

“I’m writing for black people… in the same way that Tolstoy was not writing for me, a 14-year-old colored girl from Lorain, Ohio. I don’t have to apologize or consider myself limited because I don’t [write about white people] – which is not absolutely true, there are lots of white people in my books. The point is not having the white critic sit on your shoulder and approve it, - Morrison told The Guardian.

Toni Morrison was the recipient of the 1977 National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon, 1988’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved, and the Nobel Prize in Literature a few years later.

Morrison’s writing and characters have gone on to resonate with millions of readers across the globe of various races and ethnicities. Not to mention the generations of writers, like myself, that she has and will continue to inspire.

From her debut novel, The Bluest Eye, to her last, God Help The Child, Toni Morrison has vigorously and unapologetically encapsulated the human experience that so many Black Americans endure despite the masks we wear for society at large, which transformed American literature as we know it.

An enormous part of her legacy is the work she did to establish and extend the Black American literary canon, both in her own writing and in the work she did as an editor prior to having published her first novel.

Toni Morrison's Writing | Making Black America | PBS

Morrison leans into topics many would consider taboo and creates complex characters with raw psyches and emotions.

The authenticity, the rawness, and the brutal honesty touches you in a way I can’t even begin to try and type out or describe. All I can say is that after each Morrison novel I’ve read, I’m left both inspired and hungry for something else from her. Inspired to create characters that look like me, from worlds like mine, who are bigger than life, and unapogetically black.

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it,” - Toni Morrison.

Her works force you to confront the ugly truths of society, the links to our brutal past, and the relationships forged because of a history we often would rather forget, then revisit.

"Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that marigolds did not grow" - The Bluest Eye.

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, Morrison has written is a work of literary art. However, we all have our favorites. Here are mine:

1.Song Of Solomon - Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. As Morrison follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, she introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized Black world.”

2.Love - In life, Bill Cosey enjoyed the affections of many women, who would do almost anything to gain his favor. In death his hold on them may be even stronger. Wife, daughter, granddaughter, employee, mistress: As Morrison’s protagonists stake their furious claim on Cosey’s memory and estate, using everything from intrigue to outright violence, she creates a work that is shrewd, funny, erotic, and heartwrenching.”

3.Paradise- “Starts with a horrifying scene of mass violence and chronicles its genesis in an all-black small town in rural Oklahoma. Founded by the descendants of freed slaves and survivors in exodus from a hostile world, the patriarchal community of Ruby is built on righteousness, rigidly enforced moral law, and fear. But seventeen miles away, another group of exiles has gathered in a promised land of their own. And it is upon these women in flight from death and despair that nine male citizens of Ruby will lay their pain, their terror, and their murderous rage.”

No matter which of her books catches your eye first, you’re bound to be in for an adventure that puts your emotions on a rollercoaster and introduces you to some of the most well-written and thought out characters.

Toni Morrison is one of the best American authors. Thanks to her, readers and writers across the world are inspired to speak their truths and stand fully in who they are and what they stand for; just like she did.

Thank you, Toni!

What Millennials and Older Generations Need to Realize About Political Correctness

We're all getting something wrong when we view political correctness as fundamentally opposed to free speech.

Few issues have divided the nation further than the free speech vs. political correctness debate.

In addition to deepening the gap between conservatives and liberals, the debate tends to fracture the left, leading to dissent from the inside. This stems in part from the fact that many older liberals simply can't wrap their minds around the idea of political correctness.

Political Correctness: Censorship or Part of the Fight for Equality?

Critics of political correctness equate it to censorship, which they see as a threat to the all-American ideal of unbridled freedom. For most liberal millennials and Gen-Z kids, however, political correctness is about freedom, just of a different sort. It's really about shutting down hate speech and supporting marginalized communities.

Nowhere did this divide become clearer than in one of my lectures in college, a postmodernism class with a professor who I'd always seen as uniquely brilliant (and who also happened to teach a lesbian erotica class). She lost a lot of my respect when—as a white woman—she insisted that there was nothing really wrong with a white person saying the "n" word in solitude, prompting one of the few people of color in the class to raise her hand and ask: "Why are white people so desperate to say that one word?" The professor responded with a lecture about free speech and the insubstantiality of language, a response that felt misguided and totally out of touch.

This generational divide appeared again when prominent feminist and author Margaret Atwood published an op-ed critiquing the #MeToo movement. "My fundamental position is that women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours this entails, including criminal ones," she wrote. "They're not angels, incapable of wrongdoing." In short, Atwood was critiquing the #MeToo movement for the same reason that many people critique political correctness. They feel that restricting one's language, or giving the benefit of the doubt to and prioritizing the voices of certain demographics, is infantilizing or threatening to other demographics' freedoms.

On the other hand, many young liberals understand that political correctness is an important part of the process of giving respect to groups that have been and are still systematically oppressed. This political correctness can take the form of prioritizing people of color's voices, or calling out offensive speech—even, or especially, when it's the product of ignorance, or when it's conducted out of earshot of the people it might hurt.

What Toni Morrison Knew: Political Correctness and Free Speech Can Be the Same Thing

What we all need to understand is that, among other things, the left's internal war over political correctness and free speech actually presents a chance for generations to learn from each other. Defenders of political correctness might realize that sometimes, accidentally offensive language can present a valuable educational opportunity—though this is definitely not always the case, and no one should be required to educate others about why they deserve basic respect.

Older proponents of free speech, for their part, can realize that political correctness, safe spaces, and the like ultimately come from places of compassion. At their core, they are efforts to achieve a more equitable world.

Perhaps it's too starry-eyed to imagine that older allies could learn from younger people who refuse to accept middle-of-the-road policies or veiled racism, but some older people have certainly embraced progressive worldviews. "Oppressive language does more thanrepresent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge," said Toni Morrison in a 1993 address about political correctness. Morrison, whose wisdom stretched far beyond the blind spots of her generation, was a supporter of what political correctness stands for, though not of the implications of that specific term. In a later interview, she added, "I believe that powerful, sharp, incisive, critical, bloody, dramatic, theatrical language is not dependent on injurious language, on curses. Or hierarchy."

In short, freedom of speech is not contingent on the ability to use offensive language. We can be free—in fact, we can only be free—when all of us are free, which will only happen when language that demonizes or injures certain groups is purged from acceptable discourse.

Ironically, the book we were discussing that day in my postmodernism class was Morrison's Beloved.

Image via the Washington Post