Toni Morrison is without a doubt one of the greatest novelists of all time, and one of the most profound thinkers on race and identity politics in America. Naturally, Morrison gets asked to share her thoughts on race all the time, but perhaps one of her most profound answers to the question “How do you feel about racism?” comes from the 1993 Charlie Rose interview above.
“That’s the wrong question,” Morrison responds. “How do you feel?”
What follows is two perfect minutes of Morrison’s poignant thoughts on how racist ideology affects white people as much as it effects people of color.
“Don’t you understand that the people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft? There is something distorted about the psyche. It’s a huge waste, and it’s a corruption, and it’s a distortion. It’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is,” Morrison says.
Morrison’s final thought in the clip, which has been shared widely via Youtube and Tumblr, is probably the most important. She says: “What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Still smart? Do you still like yourself? …If you can only be tall because someone’s on their knees, then you have a serious problem.”
In light of the recent events at the University of Missouri, as well as the overall racial tensions in the country, Morrison’s words are much-needed food for thought. So much of the conversation around racism hinges on how it makes black people the victim, but how does it make victims out of white people?