Toni Morrison’s Eyes

My introduction to Toni Morrison’s body of work came at a much later stage in my life, I read her a fully formed adult. 

Reading her, the language she used, very familiar -while imagining the characters and the events, every word used evoked kinship- and something in my body was blissful. The familiarity in her words made my heart expand at every contact. As the words entered the heart of my brain through the wandering in my eyes, they went directly at the core of my soul and awakened in me the physical symptoms of one affected by the dopeness of words. Yes, her words sent vibrations throughout my body, put me in a state of trance, erupted convulsions. Have you ever felt almost ill from being so seen, in a way you did not expect or thought possible? Intoxicated from bonds of belonging? That is what fitting in a black bloodline felt and what happened to me.

Starting the process of healing without due preparations I guess shocks the body. But reading black women does just that, it heals, it forces us to embark on a journey of self-dialogue, gives us space and context to unpack our very existence, sometimes triumphant, sometimes harmed, sometimes joyful but always whole. What the almighty Toni does with her imagination, words, and refusal- is reintroduce black women to themselves through other characters – in complete, beautiful, powerful and scary ways. In that way, she becomes the best women friend who without whom we would become the loneliest. Like a lover that sends fire to your body by a simple gaze, her words are magically humanizing, deeply rooted to diminish invisibility. A mouth full of force, a pen inked with self-love– generating electric-like renewal and definitions.

We are the chosen people of her art, she recreated us, so carefully crafted our glow -shines both in light and darkness and sparks in between. Rooted in self-recognition, ablaze hiddenness. When we were revealed to her in each character, it must have frightened her, made her laugh and cry- in that knowing, we share a moment with her, we meet her, we hear her. We see her, not as much as she sees us but still, seen, heard, valorized, related. 

 She shows our beauty thorough the prayer of words and worlds alike. I know she wrote for and about African American women, I am so very grateful to be touched by her and find a black bond, a home in her books. Her words beat like drums in the soul. She protected our vaginas. She washed away our sins. She decimalized our subversive livelihoods.

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The voices in her stories were never stunted but magnificent and supreme- just like she. she vows to roll with us in her characters, deep- for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death can’t do us part.

 She bends waves, digging oceans, flipping galaxies and drowning soils. Escaping death, gaze after gaze, white upon on white, word by word, story by story, step by step. Heart to hurt, black to soul. Back to matter!

The intense ways my physical body reacts to her articulation, I think, may come from the fear of what it might discover, a discovery of self. It is a connection I can only describe in the magic of a lover’s eyes and the electric it emits. Toni was our lover in that way, she went to places no one, even ourselves, have dared to go to. She gave as the interest to want to live and the permission to leave a mark. Artists like mothers don’t die. They live through creation, reincarnated with each delivery. With each labor, with each birth, with unending affinity.

“she couldn’t get interested in leaving life or living it,” 

Excerpt From: Toni Morrison. “Beloved:

In the bluest eyes, she not only introduces us to the venoms world of how white supremacy affects America but each one of us occupying blackness in the world. I never prayed for Blue eyes but I have prayed for thinner lips. I may not have prayed for blue eyes but I have wanted straight hair. I may not have prayed for blue eyes but I did pray for a ‘white-nose’.

The universality of her characters in their particularisms comforts me, I know there are hierarchies to this relatability and specifics. But the global unity of black fullness, suffering, and resistance is reasserted. 

In the promotion of the wholeness of blackness-She knew making black people visible first and for most to ourselves will force the world to see us, she set us free from captivity and narrated black fugitivity. Untamed, she journeyed with us, flew and floated- released.

 She was gentle with her characters too, she sat with them, long before they were born, she loved them, never denied them a life of their own, no matter how unlovable, undeserving, undesired, unheard they were. She valorizes the characters and immortalizes them in a way that even Sula in her death speaks. By immortalizing her characters, she immortalizes us and herself. Through her work, she befriends us, black folk. Her words created a world for us, a world of defying shame. An undying word.

 Her characters are affirming in the struggle for our sexual liberation. Through memory and just like what my friend Fatou says ‘my body has memories’ she taught as to remember the memories no matter how uncomfortably painful they may be. She knew remembering and storytelling are in alignment with the liberations we seek. An ode to the unsung sheroes and a wayward life, reclaimed.

 “When you gone to get married? you need to have some babies. It’ll settle you.

 I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself”

Excerpt From: Toni Morrison. “Sula.”

Through her characters she made us, she fought for us, she freed us, she gave us the language, she led us to a path of revolution. She said no to the vanishing. Her words are a continuum filling and feeling up the void, that is why we shed tears when she speaks to us. 

Through her books about slavery, she brings back our ancestors to us through her storytelling. In that imagery, she returns what was stolen from us to us. What was stolen from the motherland, buried under the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and voyaging through the Americas, reunites again, yes through multitudes of agony but also defiance, art, songs, dance, and language!

 By telling our stories that way – she unburdened us.What a gift, what a love!

 She taught us that by our virtue of centering ourselves that we have the power to decenter anything and everything that gets in the way. She is our eyes.


Zemdena Abebe is a kind, pan-Africanist-womanist justice seeker, pushing the Afro-Feminist kinship agenda. She writes, tells stories and cares. She disrupts oppressive systems while dancing. Link up with her @Afrowomanist

Feature Photo:

FOR TONI M. by Ernest Shaw, Jr. 6 August 2019

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