Just about a year ago, I listened to this episode of Democracy Now. Toni Morrison was an amazing human being, truly amazing. This link will take to you to the video, audio, and transcript of that episode. Highly recommended.
One quote from a 2010 conversation between Toni Morrison and Angela Davis:
TONI MORRISON: The interesting thing is that they established these laws. And the laws were very, very interesting. They said things like any — no blacks shall be allowed to carry a weapon, ever, for any circumstances. OK. Second, any white can maim or kill any black for any reason, without being charged.
Now, you see what that did to the indentured servants who were white: Now they’re better, freer, more powerful. They’re in the same situation. They’re still enslaved. But they’re not — but they can carry weapons, and they can beat up black slaves without punishment. So they have this little margin of status, nothing else. Nothing else but that little margin.
And that little margin has worked its way through this country since then. That was in the 17th century. And you know the Southern strategy. You know all these things in which you flag race and racism as a cause or even a goal. And racism is not a goal. It’s a path. It’s just a route to power and money. That’s what it is. That’s what it’s for, whether it’s via war or segregation or what have you. The thing itself is just a manipulation and a tool. And its purpose is what I just described that went on after the Bacon Rebellion.
Racism didn't disappear with the Fourteenth Amendment. Nor did equality and justice reign across the land after the civil rights movement.
Another quote. This one from 1975:
TONI MORRISON: It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is and to know the function, the very serious function, of racism, which 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 so you spend 20 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 that you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, and so you dredge that up.
None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing. The distraction is no different from bombing Cambodia to keep the North Vietnamese from making their great push. And since not history, not anthropology, not social scientists seem capable, in a strong and consistent way, to grapple with that problem, it may very well be left to the artists to do it.