Authors Harper Lee's and Toni Morrison's New Books Likely to Influence Millennials' Dialogues on Race (part 2)
Unlike her fellow author Harper Lee, Toni Morrison has remained astonishingly prolific throughout her literary career. Though mostly celebrated as a creator of highly-inventive and intensely provocative fiction, she is also in fact an author of popular children’s books, intriguing opera librettos, and intellectually-probing nonfiction as well as an editor. Following the announcement of her forthcoming eleventh novel, God Help the Child, the February 9, 2015, edition of The New Yorker Magazine published “New Fiction” by her in form of an excerpt from the novel.
[If you missed the first part of this article and would prefer to start at the beginning please click here]
Although deeply embedded in African-American history, Morrison's writings have always gone beyond standard representations of African Americans as victimized or marginalized individuals drifting along the outskirts of white concerns. She has instead presented them as central cosmic presences wading their way through currents of unique human experience shaped by powerful confluences of historical developments. As an author, Toni Morrison in some important ways is to American fiction what the late W.E.B. Du Bois and Howard Zinn were to American history: a revisionist of themes and texts who expanded narratives on the American story to validate the testimonies of those whose lives and voices had been classified as “minor.”
The Color of a Mother's Pain
The passage from God Help the Child published in The New Yorker focuses on the development of the relationship between a very light-complexioned black woman and a daughter who, unexpectedly and inexplicably, is born with very dark skin. The child’s skin is so dark, in fact, that the mother holds a blanket over her face and then has to resist the urge to kill her. She later instructs her daughter to address her as “Sweetness,” and the daughter herself is given the far less elegant name of “Lula Ann” Bridewell. In addition to suffering painful embarrassment over her daughter’s complexion, Sweetness also fears for her safety in the world:
“With that skin, there was no point in being tough or sassy, even when you were right. Not in a world where you could be sent to a juvenile lockup for talking back or fighting in school, a world where you’d be the last one hired and the first one fired. She didn’t know any of that or how her black skin would scare white people or make them laugh and try to trick her.” (Toni Morrison, from Sweetness as published in The New Yorker)
This predicament allows Morrison to examine the often controversial subject of intra-racial color prejudice among African Americans. Some have theorized that such prejudice has its roots in the internalization of negative images projected by American Whites during slavery––and through mass media in the decades that followed–– onto African Americans. It further intensified into a form of self-hatred frequently reinforced by stereotypes proliferated throughout what passed for popular American culture in the 1900s.
Others contend it is a completely different species of neuroses formed from the triple pressures of social, economic, and political oppression. Either way, intra-racial color prejudice represents yet one more facet of the bizarre negative psychological complexities generated by obsessions with notions of racial superiority in contrast to principles of human diversity.
A Framework for Millennials
Many television viewers were delightfully stunned by Toni Morrison during her appearance on the Stephen Colbert Show last November when she commented candidly on race as a “social construction” from which certain people profited. With those comments, as she has done for her own generation and the generations of American writers who have followed in her footsteps, she gave Millennials a very valuable tool in the form of one model for addressing one of the world’s most persistent problems: racism.
The day after Morrison’s appearance on the late night talk show, readers born long after the publication of her first novel, The Bluest Eye in 1970, and many born not-so-long afterwards, took to social media to express how much they had enjoyed watching her. Many also, however, confessed that they had never read any of her books.
Anyone in need of incentive to get started reading Morrison might consider that, as nearly as anyone can tell her works have been translated into nearly two dozen languages, is taught in schools around the world, and has sold in huge quantities for which there are no precise figures. That kind of achievement––even without mentioning such honors as the Pulitzer Prize, France’s Legion of Honour Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom–– is its own greatest endorsement.
Most professional creative artists are familiar with the challenge of having to sometimes divide their inspired energies between remaining focused on one area of productivity while occasionally, simultaneously, completing work in another. It was that kind of cognitive agility that allowed the music of Michael Jackson’s Xscape album compilation to reconfirm his genius in 2014, five years after his death in 2009.
It was also that kind of determined flexibility which allowed this author to remain on track with research for current literary works in progress while also publishing more articles, essays, poems, books, and blog posts throughout 2014 than previously realized. Their titles and headlines confront some of 2014’s most compelling issues, any number of which is likely to continue challenging humanity in 2015. They include the “Bring Back Our Girls” social media campaign, guerrilla decontextualization, the impact of Stand Your Ground laws on race relations in America, the cultural impact of poetry, and war and terrorism across the globe.
One important part of the reason for the sustained output was the motivation provided by invitations from administrators on LinkedIn to contribute to their Pulse News platform, which often features the work of LinkedIn “Influencers.” Responding to every invite was not possible but the infectious inspiration of certain topics proved too powerful to resist.
The List below
On top of the above, invitations to contribute poetry to the new Black Gold Anthology and to Poetry Life & Times prompted the fine-tuning of several previously-unpublished poems taken from two books of poetry, including a volume of New & Selected Works, currently in progress. So, in the course of constructing a Timeline Table of Contents for the Year 2014 going into 2015, the list below is what it looks like up to this point. For articles published in multiple segments, only the first parts are listed. Also, please note that in a few special cases some articles were republished in extended formats and these will be indicated with a second link:
Timeline Table of Contents for 2014 Going into 2015
The reference to Michael Jackson at the beginning of this article was not arbitrary. He once famously wrote and sang these words: “Every day create your history/ Every page you turn you’re writing your legacy.”
One interpretation of the classic lyric is that Jackson is suggesting an individual should live his or her daily life with the mindful intention of making a positive contribution to humanity. Another is that one should literally document specific aspects of his existence to avoid the pitfalls of guerrilla decontextualization. Both concepts are worth considering when leaving the old year behind and entering the new because both can provide tools of insight and clarity that help make it possible to identify past mistakes and do a lot better in the days ahead.
My AuthorsDen colleague Ronald Hull commented recently that I seem to have successfully managed the art of literary social media network hobnobbing (my descriptive language, not the impressively cerebral Ron’s). The compassionate behind-the-scenes team that helps me remain connected knows it has more to do with their willingness to lend an indispensable helping hand than with any techno-savvy or social-media wizardry on my part. Also, for me, it’s more like visiting diverse friends and associates in different virtual neighborhoods when time allows.
The team, however, can only do so much and some issues have to be dealt with through as much direct engagement as possible. Two big examples are the upgrade at Creative Thinkers International that has been in progress since the beginning of 2014 and the lamentable shutdown of Red Room back in July. The CTI upgrade is largely a matter of working with and adjusting to rollouts provided by the Ning/Glam Media Network. As many Ningians and members of various social networks have discovered, adapting to those rollouts can be a very tricky dance (Check out The Splendidly Revitalized Colors of Change ).
Endings & Beginnings
The Red Room shutdown was unexpected and has proven challenging for reasons that are more than sentimental. Blurbs for posts shared on Red Room were automatically shared as status updates on several Facebook profiles as well, so that distribution outlet has been lost (See The Saving Grace of an Old School Strategy and Impulse ).
There were also more links connected to books, articles, stories, poems, videos, and photographs scattered around the web than I could begin to count or think about removing on my own. They had accumulated, after all, over a period of nearly 7 years and were then rendered dysfunctional in less than a week.
Making the LinkedIn Connection
There is, however, that old saying which goes, “When one door closes another opens.” Sometimes even 2 or 3 new doors open. Just as Red Room said goodbye, LinkedIn issued an invitation for me to publish blogs alongside some of the world’s leading organization and industry strategists (A recent share Let’s Fix It 7 Steps to Help Replace Legislated Fear with Informed Compassion ).
Because I have become so accustomed to posting works of a definitive literary or journalistic nature, I was uncertain about how effective such a move might be. In the end, the challenge was one I could not resist and to date I have shared just over half a dozen posts on LinkedIn that combine advocacy for the creative arts with entrepreneurial, social, and political concerns. In addition, I also found myself living up to my pledge to support the Charter for Compassion organization in ways I had not previously anticipated. (Like this Creative Flexibility and Annihilated Lives )
I think that upon signing the charter at the beginning of 2014, I might have presumed that the signature, a few retweets of Charter statements, and some shared links were as far as my involvement would go. Thankfully I was wrong. As the world began to realize the full magnitude of threats posed by groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS, as well as by domestic violence and homegrown terrorism, the Charter provided me with an extended platform to address such issues.
On top of all the above, there was also the launch of the blog Tao of the Rainbow, about which I will share more in that specific space.
The year 2014 thus far has meant negotiating a lot of important exchanges. Determining exactly how influential or significant those changes are may have to wait until 2015 gets underway. For now, the only thing I can say for certain is that at least a few more very interesting developments are on the way, which is generally about how things tend to go in my world.
© Oct 25, 2014
Quote by Aberjhani with original digital MLK poster: “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was a manifestation of hope that humanity might one day get out of its own way by finding the courage to realize that love and nonviolence are not indicators of weakness but gifts of significant strength.” --Aberjhani
Different roads provide diverse routes to freedom. For many, the path is an interior one. It first requires an individual to the clear from the landscape of inner beingthose areas overgrown with woody thickets of doubt and trauma or buried beneath swamplands of self-imposed limitations.
There are others––like the Americans who struggled for civil rights in the 1960s, and citizens of the Middle East and various African countries currently battling for basic human rights–– who take a more public journey to freedom. Their sense and experience of liberty is defined by interaction with the external dictates of history, evolving cultural persuasions, and dominant political trends. Individuals such as these inspired the article Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech.
Whether the journey is undertaken within or without, the impulse to demand, claim, and exercise freedom ––not just as a politicized human right but as a fundamental tenet of human existence–– is as automatic as gulping air when first leaving the womb. It therefore is not particularly surprising that the King Center in Atlanta has chosen to conclude its 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech with a “Let Freedom Ring” international bell-ringing event at 3 p.m. on August 28.
“We are calling on people across America and throughout the world to join with us as we pause to mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech with ‘Let Freedom Ring’ bell-ringing events and programs that affirm the unity of people of all races, religions and nations,” said King Center C.E.O. Bernice A. King in a news release from the Center.
When considering in 2013 the horrendous number of people who have died in Syria’s civil war over the past several years, those who have lost their lives to domestic gun violence in the United States over the past several decades, and writers and artists who are persecuted daily in different countries for “speaking truth to power,” the idea of ringing bells in the name of freedom might strike some as ludicrous. It is, however, this insistence upon liberty in the face of weighted oppression that has always given self-determination its strength and value.
Freedom rings bells because throughout history silence has too often served as an accomplice to genocide, slavery, and other forms of barbarity.It rings bells to remind humanity that the most precious gifts in life––like children and love and time––must never be taken for granted. Freedom rings bells to wake us from the comfort of beautiful dreams and empower the efforts that turn them into reality.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.