Toni Morrison Taught Black Women, ‘You Are Your Best Thing’
The way she centered our narratives was both radical and unapologetic
Just like her beloved works, the impact of Ms.* Toni Morrison as an author and thought leader will continue to transcend time and space. Many describe her works as a reflection of “the African American experience” however, this epithet ignores the ways Ms. Morrison radically centered the narratives of Black-American women.
Ms. Morrison’s concept of rememory invites Black women to heal by reclaiming our stories, reclaiming historically White and male spaces, and most importantly reclaiming our sense of self.
Even though I had the privilege of being introduced to Ms. Morrison’s work and the concept of feminism when I attended an all-girls, and nearly all-White, preparatory high school in Westchester County, New York, I didn’t begin to grasp the intersection between the two until my senior year of college. I took a seminar in the classics department about murdering mothers, inspired by Euripides’ Medea, where the eponymous demigod protagonist notoriously murdered her own children. Most of the texts we reviewed in the course were written by White men who overwhelmingly demonized those women, yet in true liberal arts fashion, we eventually placed Ms. Morrison’s Beloved in conversation with those canonical texts.
It was evident that Ms. Morrison was not only able to successfully humanize a murdering mother through her protagonist Sethe, but also able to portray something more terrifying than the original myth of Medea: that even through systemic violence and marginalization, a Black woman had the ability to create life and take it away, qualities only gods could wield in classical mythology. Ms. Morrison was also able to illustrate the intergenerational trauma through Sethe’s painful realization that she would rather end her child’s life than consider the possibility of her child’s enslavement.
Readers eventually discover the combination of Sethe’s PTSD as a result of her own enslavement, escape, and infanticide that played a significant role in her repressed memories and ultimately her sense…