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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A. Yes, but I do not see vigorous attack on the wrongness. I see what I call comic-book solutions to really major problems. Of course, a new President can make a difference -- he can reassemble the legislation of the past 20 years that has been taken apart and put it back. They said it didn't work. It's like building a bridge a quarter of the way across the river and saying, "You can't get there from here." Twenty years! It never had a generation to complete the work. Somebody has to take responsibility for being a leader.

Q. In one of your books you described young black men who say, "We have found the whole business of being black and men at the same time too difficult." You said that they then turned their interest to flashy clothing and to being hip and abandoned the responsibility of trying to be black and male.

A. I said they took their testicles and put them on their chest. I don't know what their responsibility is anymore. They're not given the opportunity to choose what their responsibilities are. There's 60% unemployment for black teenagers in this city. What kind of choice is that?

Q. This leads to the problem of the depressingly large number of single-parent households and the crisis in unwed teenage pregnancies. Do you see a way out of that set of worsening circumstances and statistics?

A. Well, neither of those things seems to me a debility. I don't think a female running a house is a problem, a broken family. It's perceived as one because of the notion that a head is a man.

Two parents can't raise a child any more than one. You need a whole community -- everybody -- to raise a child. The notion that the head is the one who brings in the most money is a patriarchal notion, that a woman -- and I have raised two children, alone -- is somehow lesser than a male head. Or that I am incomplete without the male. This is not true. And the little nuclear family is a paradigm that just doesn't work. It doesn't work for white people or for black people. Why we are hanging onto it, I don't know. It isolates people into little units -- people need a larger unit.

Q. And teenage pregnancies?

A. Everybody's grandmother was a teenager when they got pregnant. Whether they were 15 or 16, they ran a house, a farm, they went to work, they raised their children.

Q. But everybody's grandmother didn't have the potential for living a different kind of life. These teenagers -- 16, 15 -- haven't had time to find out if they have special abilities, talents. They're babies having babies.

A. The child's not going to hurt them. Of course, it is absolutely time consuming. But who cares about the schedule? What is this business that you have to finish school at 18? They're not babies. We have decided that puberty extends to what -- 30? When do people stop being kids? The body is ready to have babies, that's why they are in a passion to do it. Nature wants it done then, when the body can handle it, not after 40, when the income can handle it.

Q. You don't feel that these girls will never know whether they could have been teachers, or whatever?

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