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Toni Morrison poses for a portrait at the Four Season's Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, December 3, 2008. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
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Toni Morrison constantly reminded us that the real work of racism is to keep black people busy proving they have a history, a language, a heritage, writes Asanda Ngoasheng.
The death of Toni Morrison, 88, American editor, novelist and
professor, is a huge loss to many around the world. Morrison,
who won both the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,
was especially influential on black authors, academics and activists working on
race issues today.
Morrison wrote her debut novel at almost 40-years-old after
working for years as a book editor. She started writing because she was tired
of the lack of representation of black people as full complex human beings who
love, laugh and cry in most of the novels she was editing.
I was in my teens when I read her first novel, The Bluest Eye. The book told the story
of a young black girl who was teased about her dark skin, hair and eyes. She
then decides that what will solve her problems is if she was to get light skin
and blue eyes. It is a desire she starts praying for consistently.
The novel made me think deeply about internalised racism and
how the black community copes with the trauma that racism visits upon us daily. Through reading The Bluest Eye and her
other work, and listening to her interviews, I was able to craft my voice on
race issues better and be unafraid and unapologetic about my stance because Morrison
constantly emphasised the importance of being unapologetic when dealing with
In an interview, when asked when she would write books with
central white characters, she admonished the interviewer for her racist
question that centred whiteness and then declared that she writes for black
people and does not need to white gaze for her work to be validated.
Morrison also constantly reminded us that the real work of
racism is to keep black people busy proving they have a history, a language, a
heritage. This reminder was important for me, when as part of the "Decolonising
the Curriculum" movement, I would constantly be challenged with the
question how it’s possible to decolonise Mathematics and Science which was
claimed as Western subjects of enquiry. This despite the existence of the pyramids
and other entities on the continent that proved the ancient mathematical
prowess of Africans long before imperialism, colonialism and other systems of
With Morrison's death, I am comforted by the fact that while
we won't hear any new thoughts from her, we are left with a large canon of work
and many interviews that can inspire us to think differently about race and
In her own words, "We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That
may be the measure of our lives."
- Ngoasheng is a political analyst and research associate at the Centre for Rights and Justice at the University of Sussex.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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