I wanted to highlight a stream of objections that were raised a few days ago to the notion that black women's writing--and Toni Morrison's in particular--are unconcerned with the white gaze. Here's Morrison, again, in her own words:
"In American literature, African American male writers justifiably write books about their oppression," she says. "Confronting the oppressor who is white male or white woman. It's race. And the person who defines you under those circumstances is a white mind - tells you whether you're worthy or what have you. And as long as that's your preoccupation, you're defending yourself against that. Reacting to it. Reacting to the definition - saying it's not true. African American women never do that. They never write about white men. I couldn't care less - I didn't want to spend my energy refuting that gaze."
How does the author of The Bluest Eye, an extraordinary novel about a black girl who wants blue eyes so she can be pretty; Song of Solomon, a fabulous novel that has as as one of its main threads a group of men so warped by the racism of their nation that they've formed a murder/assassination squad to kill white people and their black accomplices as revenge for white acts of racism; Tar Baby, a novel about the disillusionment of a young woman and her grandparents who've sought to distance themselves from blackness; Paradise a novel where racism and colourism have so warped a group of otherwise intrepid black men that they've almost lost their humanity, make such a statement?How does the author of such acclaimed works of literary and cultural criticism like 'Playing in the Dark:Whiteness and the Literary Imagination"; "Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power"; "Birth of Nation'hood: Gaze, Script and Spectacle" say this with a straight face and be taken seriously?I'm a big fan of Morrison the novelist/critic/essayist and have read, taught, and reviewed just about everything she has written and I'm at a loss how this statement squares with her body of work in either fiction or criticism. The white gaze and its deleterious effects, particularly on the relationship between black women and men, seems to me to be at the very core of her work.
Here's a link to the letter to the NY Times, January 24, 1988 that 48 black writers & critics, including Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Houston Baker, and June Jordan, wrote critiquing the fact that Toni Morrison had not yet received major recognition in the form of awards.A key sentence: "Despite the international stature of Toni Morrison, she has yet to receive the national recognition that her five major works of fiction entirely deserve: she has yet to receive the keystone honors of the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize. We, the undersigned black critics and black writers, here assert ourselves against such oversight and harmful whimsy."Later that year (1988), Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer. A few years later, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. No question that letter in the Times helped pave the way.
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