Some Wednesday Wisdom From Toni Morrison & Why There's No Space For White Gaze In Her Novels
"I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books."
By definition, being a minority means occupying a less dominant space, filtering our feelings, experiences, and even our value through the prism of white gaze. As people of color in a society dominated by whiteness, the expectation that we should center our existence and police our image for the sake of white approval is indoctrinated either implicitly or explicitly from the time we're young. It's evident in the change of tone, the taming of expressiveness, and the many ways we code-switch for survival on a daily basis. We learn early on how to perform our blackness in ways that are socially acceptable, to accommodate, maximize, and even embrace the role of sidekick. Many of us rendering a false sense of superiority at our mastery of this dynamic, regarding it as a badge of honor.
So thoroughly conditioned is this subordination that any attempt to love and defend ourselves reads as arrogant, disrespectful, militant, and inherently threatening. This is the latent tension that underlies the constant need to defend our right to matter. Who are we to see ourselves as fully human? Who are we to believe that our lives have value? In this context, the simple act of recognizing the fullness of our humanity with no compulsion to explain or factor whiteness into the equation is revolutionary.
Art is one of the few avenues in which this kind of expression is permissible. It's why creatives like Kendrick Lamar, Ava DuVernay, Nina Simone, Solange, and Donny Hathaway are so important. They call forth that truth in us, audaciously ministering to the fullness of who we are without apology. Author, Toni Morrison reigns supreme in this lane. She refuses to accept the notion that writing black narratives is somehow marginalizing. In this classic interview, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer makes that point clear saying, "I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books." Preach this word, Toni!