Our Dandelion: A Tribute to Toni Morrison
A legacy deeper than writing.
“…She moves down an avenue gently buffeted by the familiar and therefore loved images. The dandelions at the base of the telephone pole. Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty. But grownups say, “Miss Dunion keeps her yard so nice. Not a dandelion anywhere.” Hunkie women in black babushkas go into the fields with baskets to pull them up. But they do not want the yellow heads — only the jagged leaves. They make dandelion soup. Dandelion wine. Nobody loves the head of a dandelion. Maybe because they are so many, strong, and soon.” -Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison, the legendary novelist, professor emeritus and Nobel laureate, died yesterday — Monday, August 5th, 2019 — at age 88. And while many better equipped than me will inevitably honor Morrison for her words and impact in literature and creative culture, I’d be remiss to not articulate her impact on me — not only as a writer but as a Black being.
Coming into one’s Blackness in America is a bittersweet reality. Self-love, to be certain, is an earned process for many. But for most in the Black community, especially, it is an ideological tug of war between the shaky embrace of our worth and the tacit loathing we feel from our country, both generally and specifically.
This loathing is not always vocal or explicit. Sometimes it’s as passive as the labeling of our presence as a weed, like the dandelions about which Toni Morrison wrote. The microaggressions we feel in corporate offices. The paradox of espousing our culture while largely ignoring the systematic barriers it’s diverse (and largely unseen) communities face. The presumed guilt we wear on street corners, in stores, hosting barbeques, in our apartments, forced on us like a cloak we can’t take off.
Many, like me, have been made to feel — by strangers and family alike — that these emotions and perceptions of our experiences are counterfeit, manufactured to further center ourselves in the world’s onslaught of issues. And such an existence is isolating, dispiriting.
This imbalanced dance with self-love makes it difficult to fully concede to the power we possess. For some of us, it takes decades to accept our worth, without apology, and to create freely from it. Some never arrive at all. And if this love has been so difficult for me, a light-skinned biracial man, to embrace, I can only imagine the weight this love bears on Black women, for (and about) whom Toni Morrison mostly wrote.
But Morrison saw us. She felt this weight herself, and she committed her entire career and body of work to our visibility — the thoughtful and unabashed telling of our stories in all their glories and trials.
Toni Morrison’s work was eccentric, fearless, unapologetic, and Black as hell. And yet, her biggest impact was her ability to make Black people feel seen.
She wrote her truth and she made it plain. By so doing, she wrote our truths as well, especially those of Black women. She gave so many of us a voice when we believed we didn’t have one. And of all the weapons this world possesses, none is more powerful than the voice.
“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
These famous words by Morrison ended almost every speech I gave to the students I worked with in the past year as a motivational speaker.
In other words, don’t wait for permission. Create the words (and the world) you wish to see. Morrison’s plea to each of us was to surrender to the sacredness of our stories. To make lucid the dreams we’ve buried. To find beauty in the acrid, and purpose in the invisible. She asked us, like perhaps no one before, to surrender to our own voices.
“If you surrender to the wind you can ride it.”
We are not weeds. We are no inconvenience or nuisance. We are a creative force. We are beautiful, precisely because we, like the dandelion, are “so many, strong, and soon.”
Toni Morrison was one of the greatest wordsmiths we’ve seen. She awakened generations of Black creatives (and many others) to their power. May her words and her unblinking courage live on for generations through the rest of us.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
Rest in power, beloved.
February 18, 1931 — August 5, 2019