Toni Morrison, on her birthday, shows that she saw how insidious forces work, and into the future


Courtesy Penguin Random House

Toni Morrison was born today, February 18, in 1931 Lorain, Ohio. This morning I was reading from her most recent book, published posthumously, and now out in paperback: The Source Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations. 

I read the short essay below, and was so stunned by it prescience and relevance to our moment, that I looked to see when it was written. It turns out the essay was published in The Nation on May 29, 1995. It was an excerpt from a Charter Day Speech, “The First Solution,” delivered at Howard University, in Washington DC on March 3, 1995.

I offer it here as a reminder of her voice’s power, of her mind’s incisive insight and ability to articulate courageous truths that dangerously fester today.

I do not intend to suggest that she is speaking about any specific person or people in our current times. I will let you readers decide that for yourself, as citizens, kind of like being a voter alone in a voting booth.

Rather, notice that Morrison, as an an African-American, includes in her referencing, it seems to me, people of her own racial background, with this chilling sentence: “And in infecting these changes (fascism) produces the perfect capitalist, one who is willing to kill a human being for a product (a pair of sneakers, jacket, car) or kill generations for control of product (oil, drugs, fruit, gold.)”

To underscore the point that people of any color or persuasion could be duped into a perfect capitalist mindset, yesterday several TV pundits were warning of some of the behaviors Morrison describes as clear and present dangers to our democracy right now. A black woman, a conservative radio host, responded lamely, “But this isn’t a democracy, its a representative republic.”

Well, speaking of those representatives, especially in or Senate…

Yes, too many years we have been advancing and acquiescing to an economic and political system to cultivate some close to “the perfect capitalist” in each of us, at the very least almost reflexive consumers. That is a big reason why we are in the situation are in today. It’s also why I support Elizabeth Warren who admits to being a capitalist, and yet she knows how much we have perverted the system of American capitalism. Her agenda is about making that system work more fairly for everyone. And she makes perfect common sense each time she opens her mouth.

So please, read Toni Morrison on her birthday, remember, think and then act. Do something, for the sake of our increasingly ravaged democracy, for the sake of ourselves and our children. At the very least, read up on candidates and the issues, and vote.

(This essay is copyrighted by Toni Morrison 2019, through Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.)



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