As of August 5, 2020 it has been one year that the world has reckoned and reeling with the loss of Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford). Afterwatching ‘Pieces I Am’ I was compelled to reckon–myself!–with what her loss and legacy means. Especially, in the light of activism. -JBHarris
The film Pieces I Am debuted in May 2019. I was excited to see it, and due to scheduling and the demands of motherhood and wifery, I couldn’t make it. I was inconsolable when she died 5 months later. It was like losing my maternal grandmother, Arceal, all over again. I took me a year to look at it. And when I did? I cried.
I cannot tell you since I have been on the journey of being Black, woman and writer how I have heard the lie “Black people don’t read.”
Do you not realize that the fact you are Black and educated (on any level) is the resort of a revolutionary act?
Do you not realize that not even a century ago teaching a Black person to read, educating a Black person was something that can get you killed?
Do yo not understand that reading/writing are the basic tools of our freedom?
If not, you need to remember!
Enter one of or writing ancestors, Toni Morrison. She is by no means the only influential Black woman writer, or even the most prolific. But she is the most quoted, the most recognized and one of the most brilliant. It is her work that has gleaned and garnered the most commercial recognition. That ain’t a fluke–it’s talent!
While watching ‘Pieces I Am’ I was struck by what she noticed in the bragging the her grandfather reading the Bible–3 times–all the way through. She said, “I knew then that words have power.”
And I cried. Again.
I cried because it resonated so deeply within me-as woman, as writer, as the lover and chaser of letters–the bender of this English language. In this medium of film, I reminded of this thread I believe that most people overlook. Her first job was in publishing. And it was for her desire to help her people, merging art and activism, she introduced us to Toni Cade Bambara and Angela Davis! She decided that one way she could help the movement of the 1970’s was to give more voices–more space–to those that looked like her.
“If you don’t know the history of Black women, you don’t know the history of America.” -Toni Morrison
Art, writing, is a vehicle for change! Writing is still a form of activism! Never be dissuaded or gaslit to think that people ‘won’t’ read your work! That’s a lie from the deepest pit! If you are a writer in this time, space, and place, you need to put pen to paper!
The ancestors whom died tried to read books demand it.
Your grandparents that cried as you learned how to read, demand it.
Your grandparents that rejoiced from your kindergarten graduation to your college graduation, demand it!
Black. Folk. Have. Always. Read.
Through the vehicle of Toni Morrison’s work, we see ourselves with what she and James Baldwin (whom she still calls ‘Jimmy’), ‘the White gaze.’ And that is powerful! In a country where all things light, bright and White are prized and shown an sold, it is revolutionary to see yourself a Black person on a world constructed by a Black person–it makes you feel that you are seen and matter.
Writing is still activism. It is still needed. Morrison’s is still necessary.
Note: Toni Morrison’s work is featured in this month’s book review. Get you some! I personally recommend Beloved.