Politics & Society Snippets

Toni Morrison (“What are you without racism?”) and archival miracles

“If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.”

39:55 Toni Morrison: …I take your race away, and there you are all strung out, and all you got is your little self. And what is that? What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself? I mean, these are the questions. Part of it is, yes, the victim. How terrible it’s been for Black people.

40:21 Charlie Rose: But you don’t like that.

40:22 Toni Morrison: I’m not a victim. I refuse to be one.

40:25 Charlie Rose: And the victim is the other person who is morally inferior and who has to hold on to racism to somehow — for his or her own self-esteem and definition?

40:33 Toni Morrison: That’s a serious question. Of course, if you have to hold — that’s right. If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is, white people have a very, very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.

—Toni Morrison on Charlie Rose, May 7, 1993.

I saw this a few months ago because of @ReignofApril‘s tweet, and I’m still thinking about it.

Transcript from Charlie Rose. I made a few adjustments, either because I heard something different or because I wanted the text to reflect vocal emphasis. The transcript on their site is interactive, so if you click on a line, the video jumps to that part of the interview. I always appreciate that.

An embarrassment of riches

When I went looking for more information, I figured I’d find the exact date of the interview.

I didn’t expect to find a site with what looks like several decades of recorded, transcribed interviews with some of the most major figures in U.S. culture and politics.

It’s hard to say exactly why all of this available for streaming, with no ads, no paywall, no login required. It probably helps that this show was on PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service — not a for-profit network destined for a neglected corner of Disney+.

Amazing how much is just out there, available to all, the product of many hundreds of hours of conservation, transcription, and data wrangling by public servants, both governmental and unofficial.

For more such miracles, check out the Internet Archive, the Digital Public Library of America, and the digital collections of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, just for starters.


You can watch the entire interview, read the transcript, or see Morrison’s other appearances on the show.

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