‘The Origin of Others’ by Toni Morrison: Book Review
The Origin of Others is a short intellectual book of lectures that bestselling American writer Toni Morrison delivered at Harvard University, where she focused on the literature of belonging. Toni Morrison, whose real name is Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison was an American novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. She won international acclaim after she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She died in the year 2019. In this book, Toni Morrison intellectually analyzes the basics of the meaning of the words: ‘race’, ‘racism’, and ‘others’. She analyzes why these terms make America the country it is today and how the situation related to these terms has influenced her writings and many other American authors’ writings over the years. Morrison focuses on the fact that ‘racism’ came before ‘race’. As a well-read internationally renowned scholar on racism and Black American literature, she knows that there is no such thing as ‘race’ until there is a particular sense of ‘racism’ in a community. Racism according to Toni Morrison begets race. She analyzes her own literature and how she tried to erase both race and racism to create something that we as global citizens have failed to do: Taking out the ‘racist’ coloring in our minds and which colors (sorry for the pun) our everyday existence starting from the books we write and read.
This book took my breath away. I gave it five stars on Goodreads, and it is one of the best non-fiction books I have read this year in 2020. This book was gifted to me by Santa Claus on Christmas Day 2017. Yes, I am 31 years old, and I still get gifts from Santa Claus. If you want to learn more about my life in books and with books, you can check out my memoir Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai on my blog’s products page. Toni Morrison analyzes why it was possible for President Barack Obama, a Black American, to become the first Black President of the USA. She examines what it means to be ‘the other’ and what it means to ‘create the other’. She highlights how our fear and insecurity and our reasons for non-conformity makes us racist. Indeed, we project the negative aspects of our lives in the people we see around us who are not like us. Can you imagine that! That is basically what racism turns out to be: a projection of our own selves where we do not want to show that we are weak and want to show another faction of the ‘other’ who are everything we should not be. Morrison even breaks this down for us and tells us that that violence of extreme hate we use to torture, beat, lynch, rape, molest another human being is done because we want to confirm our own humanity. We try to confirm our own humanity and the reason for our existence by beating another person continuously, as their very existence proves that ‘uniformity’ is not the key but ‘diversity’. This is something primeval, something inborn in us that we need to erase. It seems the danger of sympathizing with a stranger is the possibility of one day becoming the stranger, and that is what people, especially Black and White Americans, including the new Brown Americans, feel threatened by.
This is a psychological work of ‘othering’, convincing oneself of the divine delineation between enslaver and the enslaved. We will be stuck with this notion till we go to our graves unless we decide as a global community to become truly globalized and shake off racism and race for good by understanding the psychology behind it. Morrison analyses why a white supremacist came to power in 2016 as the leader of the greatest nation on Earth: the USA, and how a much better candidate who sympathized with the Black community lost the election. The book was published in 2017 when Toni Morrison was not yet aware of the terrible consequences of the present incumbent’s presidency on the USA. If you want to know more on this subject, you can check out my book review and book analysis of A Warning by Anonymous. Toni Morrison only experienced a brief part of that presidency. But what she saw was reason enough for her to warn the world that if unchecked, racism would divide the USA and even the world to such an extent that it would ruin the legacy we have to provide for our children. Morrison talks about her own books and how she has tried to take away the ‘color of race’ from her books and try to make the reader read the book somewhat ‘color blinded’. She speaks about racism being a constant arbiter of differences as wealth, class and gender, and caste if you think of my country India. Morrison mentions that one does not learn ‘Othering’ through being born ‘the other’ as there is no fetal predisposition to sexism, but that one learns othering by example. The example we set before our children when they are young will make them analyze who they are and the meaning of skin color in this realm of existence. She mentions there is no such thing as the Aryan Race, which is something revelatory and shocking to me as an Indian. She says that through her studies, she and many sane intellectuals realized that there is no such thing as the Aryan Race of old that ushered in the draconian racist figure that Adolf Hitler became. According to Toni Morrison, the ‘Aryan Race Myth’ was cobbled together from various mid-nineteenth century sources before it became a lynchpin for Nazi Germany. This was revelatory for me as a History graduate, but I am not surprised by it. I have read several books that have made me realize that there were esoteric reasons for the rise of certain people on this Earth and that we, through selfish and worldly needs, have created the divisive elements in our world. I am speaking from a Gnostic aspect. To know more, you can check out my book review of The Secret History of the Gnostics by Andrew Phillip Smith.
Where severe physical, mental, psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse is concerned, Morrison mentions that the White master used to do this calling the Blacks inhuman. However, the truth is that the definition of ‘inhuman’ overwhelmingly describe the punisher more than the punished. The punishment is more sadistically deep than corrective; it is the enslaver trying to ratify his existence as the enslaver. Morrison highlights the meaning of ‘love’ and how to be cautious of it; otherwise, we will treat it as a possession which religious prophets have warned us of since time immemorial. When we either show ‘love’ or ‘hate’ towards a person, we show that we have a hold on that person. True love means letting go even of that notion that you have a claim on the person you ‘love’. When you ‘hate’ a person, you reveal yourself more than your ‘hate’ can ever tell about the person you hate. Morrison mentions the three primary resources that are available to all of us that makes us differentiate one another:
From these three, the last is the most important in forming ideologies that will last and will be difficult for us to shake off till we die—the first two feed and form experience. We must realize that there are no ‘Others’, just many versions of ourselves. When we see people or a person whom we do not resemble, we must remember that our liking or disliking the person stems from these points:
- The stranger is not foreign or alien.
- He or she is random and remembered.
- The randomness of the encounter with our already known though unacknowledged selves that summon a ripple of alarm makes us reject the figure and the emotions it provokes, especially when these emotions are profound.
- We then discriminate against them to fit outside our mirrors or romance them to fit inside our mirrors. It is not mainly about them; it’s all about us.
And suppose you think that Globalization is good for this finite planet that is Earth. In that case, Toni Morrison asks you to think again because this near messianic process that we have called Globalization has its roots in past thoughts and our history, which is trying to ignore ‘diversity’ and ‘universalize’ everything and everyone. Globalization may be a blessing in a certain way, but mostly it is sadistic and evil, which is equally capable of creating a dystopian world that will ruin us. Therefore, if we have to analyze race, we will have to think in terms of ‘diversity’ and not in terms of ‘unification’. The West has always hankered after a melting pot of ideas to create a universal concept of unity. That will not work to make this Earth and its present inhabitants last forever, but thinking about unity in diversity can.
This and much more is the core of The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison. Collect your copy of this book on Amazon or your nearest bookstore today. It is a must-read and a book that is important to our understanding of race, racism, and what it means to be the ‘other’. I am sure that all Americans will benefit from this book, especially at this crucial moment. Grab this book and read it today so that never more shall America’s freedom be exchanged for anything draconian or inhumane. This book will help us accept our history and work together to understand the ‘other’ in all of us. Read it anytime you wish. It is so racy that you will finish it in two hours. In this amazing book, Toni Morrison has also mentioned how she has used color-neutral words in shaping her previous bestselling and award-winning books. I hope to read more of her books like A Mercy; Paradise; Beloved; God Help the Child; The Black Book; and Home in the light of what Toni Morrison has divulged in this book. She has even focused on other writers like Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway and how they as writers have analyzed their characters of color. I hope to return to these books too to read and review them on my blog.
Do support Toni Morrison and her work. Without her contribution to literature, especially Black Literature, I would not have experienced the richness of American heritage. As an intellectual and writer, Toni Morrison has touched many hearts through her body of work. She is an inspiration to many, and I hope this book, The Origin of Others, makes you return to her novels and other writings. I hope to do so soon; I have her whole collection. If you want to know more about my bookishly ridiculous life but in a shorter form, you can check out my shorter memoir titled The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra on my blog’s products page.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing The Origin of Others by American writer Toni Morrison. I hope to read, review, and analyze more American fiction and non-fiction books, short stories, and essays in the coming days. This is in keeping with the fact that the 2020 USA Elections have taken place, and I want to celebrate the literary and bookish heritage of the USA on my blog insaneowl.com. I hope to continue reviewing and analyzing American books till January. So, if you are interested in American bookish content, this is the site you must keep watching.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out the products page on my blog or my author’s page on Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2020 Fiza Pathan (First appeared on insaneowl.com)