TONI MORRISON: The Pain Of Being Black

TONI MORRISON, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her gritty novel Beloved, smolders at the inequities that blacks and women still face

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There was this ad hoc nature of everyday life. For black people, anybody ! might do anything at any moment. Two miles in any direction, you may run into Quakers who feed you or Klansmen who kill you -- you don't know. When you leave the plantation, you are leaving not only what you know, you are leaving your family.

Q. Have you any specific proposals for improving the present-day racial climate in America?

A. It is a question of education, because racism is a scholarly pursuit. It's all over the world, I am convinced. But that's not the way people were born to live. I'm talking about racism that is taught, institutionalized. Everybody remembers the first time they were taught that part of the human race was Other. That's a trauma. It's as though I told you that your left hand is not part of your body.

How to breach those things? There is a very, very serious problem of education and leadership. But we don't have the structure for the education we need. Nobody has done it. Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.

I saw on television some black children screaming and crying about the violence in their school. But what do we do about that?

Q. But there is violence in schools that are all black, black against black.

A. Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. I don't have any answers other than what to do about violence generally. None of those things can take place, you know, without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.

Q. That's a strong condemnation. Complicity suggests that these conditions are seen as O.K.

A. Human beings can change things. Schools must stop being holding pens to keep energetic young people off the job market and off the streets. They are real threats because they may know more, they may have more energy, and they may take your job. So we stretch puberty out a long, long time.

There is nothing of any consequence in education, in the economy, in city planning, in social policy that does not concern black people. That's where the problem is. Are you going to build a city to accommodate more black people? Why? They don't pay taxes. Are you going to build a school system to accommodate the children of poor black people? Why? They'll want your job. They don't pay taxes.

Q. Many people are deeply concerned that these young black students are dropping out.

A. They don't care about these kids. I don't mean that there are not people ; who care. But when this wonderful "they" we always blame for anything say we've got to fix the schools, or we have got to legalize drugs, what they care about is their personal well-being: Am I going to get mugged? Are the homeless going to be in my neighborhood?

Q. You don't think there is great concern out there that American society has things seriously wrong with it? Not just because "I can't walk down the street"?

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