Racism as Distraction: Aminatta Forna Writes about Toni Morrison
In this text she wrote for the Luminato Festival Toronto on Toni Morrison, Aminatta Forna reflects about Toni Morrison’s powerful words:
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing”.
Forna describes how, in her experience as a television reporter, it was demanded of her to explain, over and over, British white people’s racism, “not to black people who knew plenty, but to white people who I was being asked to pretend were oblivious to the fact of it. (…) In the many years that have passed, I have watched the fallacy be shaped and reshaped to ensnare new generations. Today, in many ways, in the arts in the United States where I now live, the requirement to ‘explain’ has become more entrenched than ever”.
For her, one of the consequences of this distraction is that it leads black and minority writers to speak on race, their “own experience”, but it constrains them from exploring “vast and multidimensional subjects of global importance. (…) I have a job which requires me to invite writers to speak and to engage with other writers on a variety of subjects at the university where I teach. There are any number of black and minority writers who can speak on race, but when it comes to, say, someone to talk about America’s foreign policy on the former Soviet Union and Ukraine, it suddenly becomes very much harder”. Forna teaches her students that it is not their job to talk about race, quoting Morrison: “Educating the conqueror is not our business. But if it were, the best way to do it is to not explain anything to him, but to make ourselves strong”.