In a world where Black women are too often erased from art, literature and history, Toni Morrison showed the full richness of our livesby Jade Bentil / August 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
What does it mean to reclaim, rename and re-own that which was not beloved as Beloved? Such a quest not only shapes the contours of Toni Morrison’s most celebrated work, but it also lies at the heart of her rich tapestry of written and spoken art, and the glimpses we saw of the life that she lived to the full. Her passing on 5th August 2019 reaffirmed this theoretical and lived commitment to writing about the lives of Black women in all their complexities and pain and joy and beauty and that which is so often forgotten: the mundane, the everyday, the quotidian.
5th August 2019 marked a lifetime spent reimagining what is made possible when our narratives are not positioned as marginal. Toni Morrison’s seminal five decades of centring, writing to and writing with Black women provided us with litanies that open up new ways of thought, that invite us to envisage otherwise. At every turn of her glittering career, she was firm in who she was speaking to. Her words were always for us.
Toni Morrison did not ask why we were excluded, why we were rendered invisible in disciplines spanning from the Western literary canon and the historical archive to art, cinema and everything else in between. Instead, her oeuvre asked a completely different question: “What intellectual feats had to be performed by the author or his critic to erase me from a society seething with my presence?”
In posing this question, she shifted the gaze through which Black womanhood is conceived; not as absence from the archive that must be corrected through white frames of understanding, but as the well from which liberation, hope and radical love are performed. She gave us a language to understand that freedom is not a singular march towards an elusive promise of progress. Instead, it is ongoing, present in the everyday of our lives and our imaginations. “If we don’t know what our past is,” she emphasised, “if we Third-World women in America don’t know it, it is not known by anybody at all.”
For Toni Morrison, grappling with the…