Toni Morrison Gives a Lesson in Unpacking Assumptions and the White Gaze

I love this video, which I stumbled upon in a tweet by Charles Blow.  (Follow him @CharlesMBlow.)

It’s an excellent lesson in not be willing to accept the unspoken assumptions that are hidden within a stated viewpoint.  In this particular instance, Charlie Rose asks the great novelists if she can “imagine writing a novel that’s not centered about race.”  Morrison proceeds to carefully, respectfully, gently unpack the hidden arrogance of the “white gaze” that underlies Rose’s question.  She proceeds as if she believes that Rose isn’t intentionally arrogant, but is ignorantly arrogant.   And you can watch Morrison’s difficulty in attempting to share an experience that Rose, as white male, can’t imagine directly from his own lived experience. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and learn from, and, to his credit, Rose is a willing learner.

The key point comes at 2:16 when Rose interrupts Morrison to ask, “Aren’t you importing too much into the question?”  Morrison does not get defensive, she laughs and says, “Maybe.”  But then she continues,  “But what else could it be Charlie?”  before going on to very humbly, powerfully make transparent her thinking and experience.  

It’s a wonderful lesson in how to talk and listen to each other about race, and serves as a template for how to courageously proceed when you don’t accept the frame you are working within.  (Note to educators.)

Well worth the 7 minutes and 13 seconds of your time.

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