Robin Boylorn on Toni Morrison and White Supremacy
The first time I encountered Toni Morrison, I was wrestling with the remnants of myself I found in the pages of The Bluest Eye. I didn’t know if it was the language, which was so meticulously beautiful, or the familiarity of the characters, so real and resonant, that seduced me most, but I was lured in by her words, fascinated by her imagination, and captivated by her bravery. Her regality, audacity, and unapologetic blackness was aspirational. Her blackgirl/woman stories gave me permission not only to later write my own, but to own my own.
I was deeply saddened by her death, especially as I was reckoning with my own mortality after learning 31 people had been murdered in acts of domestic terrorism.
On August 5, the day of Ms. Morrison’s passing, and the 217th day of the year, there had been 255 mass shootings in the United States. That means there had been more mass shootings than days in 2019.
Domestic terrorism is at an all time high and white supremacism, fueled by hatred, entitlement, and anger, is being memorialized by manifestos and shared in secret Facebook groups. Claims of mental illness seek to distort the reality that racism and narcissism have always inspired an assumed ascension of whiteness at the detriment of everything else.
It is disconcerting to think about the ways we have become so desensitized to death, not of our heroes, like Toni Morrison, whose life left an indelible imprint on the world through her stories and cultural critiques, but of the everyday, vulnerable, ordinary folk she wrote about. Folk who, like the victims of mass shootings, are just going about their day, but then never make it home. The untenable truth is the names of victims will never be more recognizable than the men who murdered them. And while these losses are unbearable, they are becoming almost normal. But there is nothing normal about dying from hate.
Toni Morrison warned us about the violence and resilience of white supremacy. She urged us to call a thing, a thing, and to refuse to find comfort in ignorance or indifference. We have to resist the normalization of violence and mass murders as just the way things are now. We have to, as Morrison said, “insist on being shocked” and never become immune to the cruelty of racism.
Morrison’s words are witness and testimony. No one has ever been, or will ever be, better with words. And perhaps the best way of honoring her legacy is by heeding her words.
*In the following commentary, Dr. Boylorn says "I was reckoning with my own mortality after learning 31 people had been murdered in acts of domestic terrorism." She is referring to the mass shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, Ohio that occurred on Aug. 03 and Aug. 04, 2019, respectively.
She also states, "On August 05, the day of Ms. Morrison's passing and the 217th day of the year, there had been 255 mass shootings in the United States. That means there had been more mass shootings than days in 2019."
The attack in Odessa, TX on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 was the 256th mass shooting in the US. Seven people were killed and at least 22 others were injured.
Written by Robin Boylorn
Edited by Brittany Young