Dr. King, Ms. Morrison, and a random thought on my impending birthday

I am currently watching Toni Morrison on the Colbert Report, and he just mentioned a fact I hadn’t realized: Toni Morrison was 39 when she wrote her first book.

I mention this because on January 2, I will turn 39. The reason that age is so significant to me is that Dr. King was killed at the age of 39. (I know. Look it up. I check the math regularly because I can’t believe it either.) He argued theological points more elegantly, risked his life more regularly, and stood for a commitment to nonviolence and to the dignity of Black life more powerfully than anything I will accomplish in twice that time. As I approach 39, I am no Dr. King.

So I find it comforting to know that one of the most transformative writers of my era really began her craft at that age and continues to bless us.

In her interview, Ms. Morrison talks about how race is a construct. (Racism is real, with power and privilege and the potential to destroy and misshape, but race itself is a construct, she explains.)

Earlier today I was sharing with a young radical leader in the community that I’m proud of her in relation to her standing up publicly and confronting a community’s leader’s White privilege in organizing a vigil for the loss of Black lives without engaging the people who have actually lost family to police brutality and for potentially seeing the vigil as an opportunity to promote political and police leadership at a time the community is not yet ready to proclaim that, especially prior to the hard work that needs to happen to begin to rebuild the relationships between survivors and the people who work in the systems that took those lives. On Monday, because of that, my hope is that families of color can gather in a safe place to grieve and mourn, and they will also not have to navigate the potential trauma of the police force being given media attention before real healing and reconciliation and justice have been done. But I was reluctant to get into the fray at first, because I was too sad that the initial effort that I had placed my hopes in had turned out to have so much unconscious privilege saturated into it, and I was initially cautious about the direct confrontation of it (such as protests of the vigil and militant action being planned against it). I had been so hungry for a safe and peaceful place for families of color who didn’t want to take their children to protests where windows were smashed and police might move in that I was suspicious of what would replace it. And yet, the people calling for militant action against the initial vigil are creating a peaceful space for authentic grief and anger and honoring the many needs of families of color and particularly Black families in this moment.

My friend said, “I’m so glad. I was afraid you thought I was too mean.”

I let her know that this is why an intergenerational movement matters — at different points in our lives, we experience issues of righteousness, urgency, grace and redemption differently. None of us has it 100% right; that’s why we need each other to together create the whole truth. I need young activists like her to ground me in the urgency of this moment, and I need my elders to remind me this moment is part of a larger fabric. And those generations need me, too, with my sense of the relational aspects of the justice movement that might otherwise get ignored.

That’s really all I have to say. 39, here I come. The mystical point between the setting of a sun and the rising of a moon.

photo Toni Morrison gp3


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