Letter to the editor: Toni Morrison’s words
To the editor:
Words matter. They can break your heart (“My feelings for you have changed…”), titillate your mind (“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know…”) and enlighten your soul (“I have a dream…”). No one understood this better than the late Toni Morrison, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author whose works are so loved and penetrating that they rightfully eclipse the awards and recognition we bestow upon them. As a writer, she focused on the notion of belonging — how we decide where and whether we belong. Most importantly, through her works she demonstrated the power of language to enlighten and cloud, to oppress and liberate, and to celebrate and humiliate.
Words have long held a treasured place in American political culture. They can elevate our moral sentiments and they can inspire people to stand against injustice. In a time when our country’s president uses dehumanizing rhetoric of cruelty and hate to fan the flames of racial animosity, Morrison’s perspective is as relevant as ever: “Oppressive language,” she wrote, “does more than represent violence; it is violence, does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.” As a middle school teacher, I try to convey this to my students every day. The words we use matter. They always have. And they always will.