102 : An Ode to Toni Morrison

Ade and Zach remember and honor the life and work of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, who passed away on August 5th, 2019, at the age of 88.

Immerse yourself in her bibliography on Amazon.


Ade: “So the literature you live and write asks and gives no quarter. When you sculpt or paint, organize or refute, manage, teach, nourish, investigate or love, you do not blink. Your gaze so lovingly, unforgivingly, stills, agitates, and stills again. Wild or serene, vulnerable or steel trap, you are the touchstone by which all that is human can be measured. Porch or horizon, your sweep is grand.” That was an excerpt from Toni Morrison’s letter “A Knowing So Deep.” Toni Morrison can best be described as a writer for a generation, for a millennia. As a black woman, Toni Morrison did one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen in literature – she centered us. Rest in power. This is Ade, and you’re listening to Living Corporate.

Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach.

Ade: And it’s Ade.

Zach: And you’re listening to Living Corporate. As you know, we’re not really, like, a current events podcast. We don’t create content that way, right? Our content is fairly evergreen, and that’s just the way we do things, but with that being said, there are instances where there are things that happen–if you recall, I think this was in Season 1, when Botham Jean was murdered by police we talked about that, you know? So there are instances that cause us pause to really do, like, something more targeted, or something more current rather, excuse me, and today is one of those times. And, you know, you heard Ade’s introduction. Ade, why don’t you talk a little bit more?

Ade: Sure thing. So, as Zach said, we’re not really a current events podcast, but when you lose someone as–and I don’t want to use the term “lose.” At 88, Toni Morrison lived a full, fulfilling, long life, but when someone as impactful as Toni Morrison leaves to join her ancestors, there’s a significant tremor, I think, that we all feel, and I think it’s important to put something like that to words. Now, at the time of this recording, Toni Morrison left this earth last night according to her reps, and I think–it shook me enough that I had to leave work and, like, have a chat, kind of talk to everyone else who might be feeling the same way, and even if you’ve never ever in your life picked up a single Toni Morrison book, it’s never too late to start. Now, the reason that she’s so significant might elude a lot of people, not necessarily because they’ve never read Toni Morrison and felt the weight of her words, but beyond how amazing she was as an author–which is deeply important–she was also an editor. She also contributed in a massive way to black history as it is being recorded, and it is so important that we’re able to recognize and build on legacies like that. I’m gonna stop saying “um.” I’m mostly just emotional. Toni Morrison had a way with words, which I think is the most singularly underwhelming statement I’ve made in all of 2019. You have to respect the sort of person who was able to craft an entire universe and prose, but you also have to respect the sort of person who kind of moves others to do the same. Like, there are writers and then there are leaders. I’ve never been a writer, but Toni Morrison charged all of us with the mantle of writers, insisted that if you have a story, tell it, take control of your own narrative in ways that I don’t think we were empowered to do, told black stories from the perspective of black people in ways that I don’t think it occurs to other people as necessary to do, right? Like, when you are systematically erased and made invisible in your own country, and then you dare to center your own narrative, there are a lot of questions, and some of you may remember the interview she had way back when–I think it was in the ’90s or the 2000s–somebody asked her if she ever thought to write about white people meaningfully, of the lives of white people meaningfully, and that’s sort of the question that we wrestle with on a regular basis, whether or not we realize it, is that as people of color, as people with marginalized identities, we are often asked to center the reality of others above our own, and what Toni Morrison did was powerful in that not only did she say “I’m not going to do that,” it almost didn’t even occur to her to do that, because the life you live is yours, and the life I live is mine, and the story that I choose to tell about myself is mine, and it is powerful because I own it, and the significance of that for me just speaks to authenticity. And I’m not one to wax poetic about authentic blackness, because I don’t believe blackness is a monolith, therefore yada, yada, yada. I could insert all of the sociology prose here, but what I know to be true is that I don’t often walk into a world that lets me just be. I am labeled and categorized and othered in a lot of different ways that really have nothing to do with who I am. It’s everybody else’s context of me, but reading Toni Morrison’s works validated for me what I’ve always known in that I’m an individual and I’m allowed to be. Yes, I believe in my community, I believe in the strength of the community, I believe that we’re stronger together. I ride harder for black women than anybody else in the world because we all we got, but what Toni Morrison stood for was our rights and not center other people’s concerns about us, and it’s the single most liberating concept, because once you stop caring what other people think about you, once you stop caring about, you know, being black in a public space where other people might not like your hair, your clothes, your skin color, your dialect, you get a lot freer, and you get a lot more mental real estate to care about the things that really matter, and that’s just invaluable. I feel like I’ve been waxing poetic for hours. I’m sorry, Zach. Would you like to go over–

Zach: No, no, no. It’s all good. I relate to your feelings despite me not being–not being a black woman. Toni Morrison, like, she really carries the mantle and continues the tradition of black women really being the true North Star of human consciousness, or at least–especially American consciousness, in that she spoke the truth consistently, and she spoke the truth that wasn’t just truth for black women or black folks. She spoke the truth, you know? There’s a passage in–there’s a passage in the Old Testament talking about wisdom, and the writer personifies wisdom as a woman, and the writer says, “Wisdom cries in the streets and lifts her voice in the square,” and the imagery there is that there’s wisdom in the streets and in the square speaking to be heard, crying out to be understood, and she’s being ignored by fools, and Toni Morrison encapsulates that in so many different ways. For me it’s just so timely, right? Like, when we talk about Toni Morrison–she did live a health–she lived a life, right? She did not die at an exceedingly young age, and we were blessed to have her for 88 years. Ade said so much. You said so much there that I’m not aiming to, like, be redundant. I know for me though, when I think about her quotes–not just her quotes and what she wrote, but, like, some of the things that–just the interviews that she had. Like, so from “Beloved”–I’m reading this one right here. “He licked his lips and said, “Well, if you want my opinion–” “I don’t,” she said. “I have my own.”” Right? The reality of “Look, I don’t–I don’t need to bend my perception and my reality to yours,” right? “My experience is valid because it is mine. My life is valid because it is mine, and to think my words and my truths are true,” and that’s powerful. We live in a day and an age, especially in corporate America–and I’ve had my own challenges, and I continue to have my own challenges, pains, both present, recent, and past that are really often built around not bending my knee to the fragility, to the entitlement, and to the insecurities of others, and Toni Morrison being a full-grown black woman her whole life–just lived her life without apology, and she wrote content that was without apology, and she carried herself with such matter-of-factness in her intellect and her genius. It was just incredible. It was absolutely incredible, and it’s inspiring, and it’s that type of attitude and it’s that ethos that I believe really inspires Living Corporate, right? Like, we have–I have a mentor. I’m just gonna shout him out, Matamba. His name is Matamba Austin. Matamba Austin–and I’m also gonna shout-out Liz Sweigart. They’re mentors of mine at my current job, and they encourage me with Living Corporate because–they say, “Zach,” like, “Living Corporate is incredible because you’re not beholden to anybody,” right?” Like, “Y’all just do what y’all want,” and, you know–come on. Like, Ade, we’re not out here going crazy. We don’t have too many gunshots on the podcast, anything like that, right?

Ade: No thanks to you.

Zach: No thanks to me, absolutely. You know, we have a few sound effects from time to time, but, you know, the point is we’re not going all the way nuts, but we live in a world that is so built on control and, frankly, white comfort, that speaking truth in any modicum–speaking any modicum of truth rather, excuse me, is deemed as radical, and that’s sad, and it’s sad that we’ve lost someone who–or that someone has passed that embodied that so, but what I’m excited about and what I’m thankful for is that she has left a legacy of black and brown truth speakers. She has created a legacy, and she is one of the people who we can look to as one of our founders, right, of just black thought leaders, and that is incredible. And yes, she does stan. I do stan, rather. She is incredible. She is one of multiple–her, my mother, and Candis are some of the main reasons that I just–I have to stand for black women. Like I said from the top, black women are the–I do believe black women are the guiding star for human consciousness–like, for decency and consciousness in America for sure. And across the world, but I can speak to America as I live here. Any time you want to see the truth or you want to hear the truth, you just need to listen to a black woman, and Toni Morrison is a great example of that.

Ade: Just a second that there’s, like, a phrase–I don’t know who the author was of this phrase, but I heard it a lot in my sociology class, Sociology of Education in particular because it’s apropos. It’s “We stand on the shoulders of giants,” and it’s so important that we recognize that because–I come from a very communal culture, and it’s very easy to lose that in the U.S. because it’s so very–we’re so very, like, individualistic, but Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, all belong to this genre of truth tellers, like you were saying, who, in their own way, in however medium they chose to share it, they just told the truth, and they told the truth in a way that centered the black experience, and we all are spawning from that well of wisdom. And so here’s to Toni Morrison. Have a sweet journey home. 

Zach: So, you know, we could continue to go on and on. One quote that I really want to read, out of the thousands that we could, is that–there’s one that just sticks out to me, and it’s one that I think about often, so I’m gonna read it here. So it starts this way. “When you get these jobs that you’ve been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else,” and that is so much so the foundation on which Living Corporate stands and, beyond Living Corporate, on which I stand philosophically.

Ade: Yeah, yeah.

Zach: You know, I think that we live in a day, right, that–so white supremacy is still alive and active, and we still work in organizations and corporations that are built around white comfort and built for and by white people. So, be it malicious or not, that is the reality of the world in which we live. At the same time–not at the same time–no, at the same time. Hm. At the same time, black and brown–

Ade: Look at you discovering grammar.

Zach: Look at me. Black and brown people are in more positions of relative power in these corporate spaces than ever before, and it is imperative that–it is imperative that we use our power to empower others, you know? A friend of mine, he quotes this–and I don’t know if it’s his quote or if he read it somewhere else, you know, but he says, like, “A candle loses none of its light by lighting another candle,” right? And so this quote about, you know, your job being to empower someone else, your role is to help–to give to others, that’s applicable not only to those who are in positions of authority and privilege and power and access, it’s also applicable to us. There’s something that all of us can do to utilize our voice, to utilize our access, to utilize our privilege, to utilize our power, to utilize our skill set to help somebody, you know? I’m not gonna go on some rant about black economics or anything like that, but I do–I believe that there are practical, every day ways that we can empower one another and that we can uplift another, that we can support one another. There are plenty of very clear ways that, again, those in the majority can help and empower underrepresented and underprivileged groups. And again, there’s also ways that we can empower one another, and Living Corporate exists to empower. Living Corporate exists to amplify the voices of black and brown people in the workplace. Living Corporate exists to tell the truth without apology and without caveat. Living Corporate exists to speak truth to power and not to be beholden by anybody. So yes, we’re gonna do partnerships with Accenture and these other large brands, and we’re also gonna keep it a buck while we do it. That’s our goal, and that’s why we exist, and so I just–

Ade: A buck fifty.

Zach: A buck fifty, you know what I’m saying? So, you know, that–I don’t have anything else to say. I have nothing else to add here. I’m just–I’m sad, but I’m thankful. I’m reflective of course, and I’m just–I’m glad that we’re here. I’m glad that it was because of Toni Morrison that platforms like ours, including ours, is able to even exist and even be appreciated in any dynamic.

Ade: Yeah. I think the beauty of a person like Toni Morrison is that we don’t need any more words. She’s said them all. And I think, on that note, thank you for listening to this B-Side. Thank you for joining us. If you know anyone who’s never read a work by Toni Morrison, pick something up for them. I love “Beloved,” as you should, “Sula,” any of her letters, any–like, anything by Toni Morrison. Pick something up and read. It’s a beautiful–it’s a beautiful time to be reflective and truly start to get back to understanding what matters. And love your family. Hold them close. You’ve been listening to Living Corporate. I am Ade.

Zach: This is Zach.

Ade and Zach: Peace.

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