Some wonderful Toni Morrison quotes about writing and the white gaze:
I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. … It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say “people”, that’s what I mean.
No African American writer had ever done what I did – none of the writers I knew, even the ones I admired – which was to write without the white gaze. My writing wasn’t about them…. This was brand-new space, and once I got there, it was like the whole world opened up, and I was never going to give that up… You know that feeling – that if you don’t write it, it will never be written? You think, Eudora Welty can’t do it, only you.
It was amazing how freed up the canvas became once I took white people out as predominant figures. The only people who did that were black women: black men write about white men because they’re their nemesis.
I have had reviews in the past that have accused me of not writing about white people. I remember a review of “Sula” in which the reviewer said this is all well and good but one day she, meaning me, will have to face up to the real responsibility and get mature and write about the real confrontation for black people which is white people. As though our lives have no meaning and no depth without the white gaze. And 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.
The people who helped me most arrive at that kind of language were African writers – Chinua Achebe, Bessie Head. Those writers who could assume the centrality of their race because they were African. And they didn’t explain anything to white people… when I read the poetry of Cesaire or the poetry of Senghor, the novels particularly – “Things Fall Apart” was more important to me than anything only because there was a language, there was a posture, there were the parameters. I could step in now and I didn’t have to be consumed by or concerned by the white gaze….
It has nothing to do with who reads the book – everyone I hope, of any race, any gender, any country.
The problem of being free to write the way you wish to without this other racialized gaze is a serious one for an African American writer.
– Abagond, 2011.
- white gaze
- Toni Morrison
- Leopold Sedar Senghor
- Langston Hughes: The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain
- Charlie Rose: An hour with Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison (1998)
- Oprah.com: The Truest Eye (2003)
- Rachel Lister: “Reading Toni Morrison” (2009)
- Thomas LeClair: “‘The Language Must Not Sweat’: A Conversation with Toni Morrison.” The New Republic, 21 Mar. 1981