NY Public Library podcast #97: Toni Morrison and Angela Davis on Connecting for Progress
Toni Morrison and Angela Davis are two of the most necessary and brilliant intellectuals of our time. Morrison, a Nobel Prize winner and Pulitzer Prize winner, has written several novels, plays, works of children's literature, and nonfiction. Scholar, activist, and author Angela Davis is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a group working to end the prison industrial complex. For this week's episode of the New York Public Library Podcast, we're proud to present Toni Morrison and Angela Davis discussing connecting for progress.
One of Morrison's most intriguing positions is that the enactment of violence is equivalent to self-destruction. In answer to one question, she discussed the detriment of homophobia to the homophobic:
"Homophobia—it’s so obviously—the violence connected with that, it’s so obviously a destruction of the self, I mean it’s just blatant, you know, to me, this others, or maybe people don’t realize it so much, but calling people names and beating them up and hanging people off of fences, I mean it’s just so self-destructive, you know. The more vicious it is toward the so-called homosexual person, the more violence there is toward oneself in that, and I think that that, you know, distributes itself in other kinds of scapegoats."
Morrison spoke about the way the power of language to define our identities. In particular, she was interested in the social potential of the word "citizen":
"Citizen suggests some relationship with your neighbors, your block, your town, with the village. After World War II they stopped using that word and we were consumers. That’s all you could hear, the American consumer this and the American consumer that. And we bought things for status and that’s what we were supposed to do. Now, what are we? We are taxpayers. All of a sudden, it’s about my little tax, my little money, I don’t want to give it to the government, those people who should not have it. You know, the people, we talk about capitalism sort of seeping into the blood, they just change the language and redefine us and we go for it. My driver was fussing about his taxes. I said, “so what? You pay taxes, so what?” But you know, all of a sudden we lose who we are, or are redefined. And when the language changes, we change. The labels change, so all of a sudden it’s about taxes. If I hear any something else about taxes—but if we were still citizens, that’s a different thing. We feel some obligation. We don’t pass by people."
Davis, too, emphasized the importance of sociality in actualizing positive change. She spoke against neoliberal ideologies and American exceptionalism in favor of engagement:
"We only think of ourselves as individuals. We don’t think about possible connections, broader connections with communities that are not only in the U.S. but that are in other parts of the world as well. It seems to me that this is the real challenge of this period even for people who consider themselves progressive in a country like the United States of America, because we also are—we also imagine ourselves as somewhat different from the rest of the people in the world, you know, American exceptionalism has its impact even on those who pretend to be most radical, exactly. And so what would it take, what would it take to create a connection with that community I was speaking about? There are about seven thousand people, Afro-descended Colombians, many of whom still have African names because they have created a history and a culture that goes back to resistance against slavery and they’re still resisting. As a matter of fact they received an eviction order for August 18th, and they refused to leave... [W]ritten protest is a process that could perhaps help us feel as if we are making community, we are reaching out beyond ourselves and that we have emotional connections with people who live on this mountain, in this village called La Toma."
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