The Toni Morrison Video

Posted in GSU photo archive, Quotes, Race by chamblee54 on November 29, 2014











There was a quote on facebook. “[A] racist white person […] doesn’t understand, that he or she is also a race that’s also constructed, its also made and also has some kind of serviceability. But when you take it away, if I take your race away and there you are all strung out and all you’ve got is your little self. And what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself?” – Toni Morrison

PG saw this, and was not happy. This week saw another unpopular opinion from a legal institution. Much noise has been made. The nation is on fire, and producing more heat than light. It seems like the concept of a peaceful, unified “post racial” america keeps getting further, and further away. Facebook rhetoric is part of the problem.

The most polite thing that PG could say was “What is the source of this quote?” An hour later, the response was “Google it, sir.”

This is a problem. If you are going to put content on the internet, you should show the source. This is the rule when you write a term paper. You show the source of your information. It is too easy to misrepresent people, and to take things out of context. You should allow people to see the facts. When you post your comment, you copy a link to where you got your information. It is easy.

After a bit of digging, PG found the source. It is a video. Ms. Morrison was a guest on the Charlie Rose show. The website for the show has archival videos, and a horrible search engine. The best anyone can say for a date is sometime in 1998.

There is almost no way to know when the interview took place, or to see the complete interview. The video starts with Ms. Morrison saying “Yes I do Charlie, but let me tell you, that’s the wrong question.” It would be very helpful to know what that “wrong question” was.

A few months ago, the video began to circulate. A blogger named Keyamsha produced a transcript, for which this slack blogger is grateful. The facebook quote is not quite what Ms. Morrison said.

Before the quoted part, Ms. Morrison talks about “the people who do this thing, who practice racism” The race of “the people” is not specified. Apparently this is the attitudes of individuals, and not institutional systemic oppression. It is noted that “It has just as much a deleterious effect on white people and possibly equal as it does Black people.”

We get then to the facebook quote. Here is the full paragraph. “That’s right. He always felt superior. And that was a form, you know, of defense of racism. And if the racist white person, I don’t mean the person who is examining his consciousness and so on, doesn’t understand, that he or she is also a race that’s also constructed, its also made and also has some kind of serviceability. But when you take it away, if I take your race away and there you are all strung out and all you’ve got is your little self. And what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself? I mean these are the questions…part of it is…yes [puts hand over her heart] “victim,” how terrible it’s been for Black people.”

The printed transcript does not really convey the message of the video. It seems to this slack blogger that Ms. Morrison sees the pity talk of liberal white people as being part of the problem. There has been plenty of oppression porn the last few days. Oh, the poor oppressed People of Color! They have such tough lives. This victim talk might not be the best way to approach the problem. Would you want people to label you a victim, and have pity? (Toni Morrison: “I’m not a victim. I refuse to be one.”)

While discussing this video, you should keep in mind that it is a tv show appearance sixteen years ago. You cannot expect someone to get every word perfect. It does not help matters when no one seems to know what the question was.

That said, there is a problem with the phrase “racist white person.” If you were to say “criminal black person” there would be an uproar. If you are not a racist, then you should not mind her saying that, right? Lets try the other phrase out. If you are not a criminal, then you shouldn’t mind the reference to criminal black people. Lets see how that works out for you. Maybe you should not use a pejorative adjective, along with an ethnic designation. Just because someone is a member of a privileged community does not make it ok to insult them.

There might be a reason for specifying the color of the racist person. Lets take a look at the lines before the quoted paragraph. Toni Morrison: … I always knew I had the moral high ground. All my life. I always thought those people who said I couldn’t come in the drug store, or sit in front of the place or couldn’t go to the park… Charlie Rose: You were morally superior to them because they were… Toni Morrison: I did. I thought they knew, that I knew that they were inferior to me, morally. I always thought that. And my parents always thought that. Charlie Rose: You said your father was racist because he thought he was superior.

Maybe she said “racist white person” because she was distinguishing rwp from a racist black person, her father. When she talks about the problems of racism, she meant the attitudes of black people towards white people, in addition to the attitudes of white people toward black people. Maybe the concept that black people could not be racist had not become popular in 1998.

When you take this into consideration, it changes the meaning of the quote. The statement should be heard in context, including the mystery question. When you put an abbreviated quote on facebook, beginning with the insulting phrase “racist white person,” you do more harm than good. Pictures are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”.












7 Responses

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  1. Mhotep said, on November 29, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    This is the episode.

    Also, I take it she said “racist” white person as opposed to white person. I heard her distinguishing between two different types of people based on their behavior. If she had said white person who was racist it might have made the distinction clearer, I think. Did you perceive her as implying all white people are racist?

    • chamblee54 said, on November 29, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      Thank you for being here.
      I think it was the gratuitous “white person” that bothered me. If you were to say greedy Jew, or undocumented Mexican, it would be a problem. Yes, many white people are racist. Am I racist? It depends on who does the judging. I am really uncertain what she was saying. The comments about “what are you without your race” would seem to be directed at black people more than white people. It is my observation that race is more important to the self identity of a black person, than to a white person. This is probably a function of the overall black-white situation in america.
      One more thing. Have you heard the entire show? I am not inclined to pay for a copy of it. I am curious what led up to the part of the show that is in the video, including the question by Charlie Rose. Whoever edited that video made a mistake… to begin a video by saying a question is wrong, without including the question.

      • Mhotep said, on November 29, 2014 at 7:38 pm

        You are welcome. Glad to know it was there when you needed it. When I first watched it I realized the exchange was kind of choppy so thought a transcript might be appreciated.

        To me Dr. Morrison makes it clear that she is talking about a specific group of people, those who practice racism. To be clear, she also specifically refers to her father as a racist. People who practice racism are bereft. They are missing some thing.

        I don’t think she was referring to Black people specifically with the “what are you” question because Black people did not invent race. The answer to the question is Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Akan, Ibibio, Efik, Ashantee, etc.

        How could race be more important to the people who have had the idea of race imposed on them than the people who invented it? Furthermore, race has been proven to be a delusion, therefore race does not even exist.

        The non-existence of race was proven sixteen years ago, about four months before Dr. Morrison’s interview was aired, and yet people still think and act as though it is real.

      • chamblee54 said, on November 29, 2014 at 7:47 pm

        Thank you for those links. I don’t know how much of that I will understand, but it is worth taking a look at.

      • Mhotep said, on November 30, 2014 at 7:52 am

        You’re welcome. If I could follow it you should have no problem. In fact what they have to say is a lot simpler than you think.

  2. chamblee54 said, on December 4, 2014 at 12:33 pm
    I asked Mr. Google about the 01-19-98 appearance on the Charlie Rose Show. Reading this synopsis, I wonder if this was a different appearance. There are two youtube videos out, with Toni Morrison on the Charlie Rose show.

  3. TED Talk Google Adventure | Chamblee54 said, on February 11, 2020 at 12:56 am

    […] is possible that Ms. Morrison did say that sentence, but, for our purposes, it is not verified. This is not the first time a Toni Morrison quote has caught my attention. A few years ago, a facebook friend posted a video of […]

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