Toni Morrison: In Defense Of Life

  • Q-This leads to the problem of the depressingly large number of single-parent households and the crisis in unwed teenage pregnancies. Do you see a way out of that set of worsening circumstances and statistics?
  • A-Well, neither of those things seems to me a debility. I don’t think a female running a house is a problem, a broken family. It’s perceived as one because of the notion that a head is a man. Two parents can’t raise a child any more than one. You need a whole community-everybody-to raise a child. The notion that the head is the one who brings in the most money is a patriarchal notion, that a woman-and I have raised two children, alone-is somehow lesser than a male head. Or that I am incomplete without the male. This is not true. And the little nuclear family is a paradigm that just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for white people or for black people. Why we are hanging onto it, I don’t know. It isolates people into little units-people need a larger unit.
  • Q-and teenage pregnancies? 
  • A- Everybody’s grandmother was a teenager when they got pregnant. Whether they were 15 or 16, they ran a house, a farm, they went to work, they raised their children.
  • Q-But everybody’s grandmother didn’t have the potential for living a different kind of life. These teenagers-16, 15-haven’t had time to find out if they have special abilities, talents. They’re babies having babies.
  • A-The child’s not going to hurt them. Of course, it is absolutely time consuming. But who cares about the schedule? What is this business that you have to finish school at 18? They’re not babies. We have decided that puberty extends to what-30? When do people stop being kids? The body is ready to have babies, that’s why they are in a passion to do it. Nature wants it done then, when the body can handle it, not after 40, when the income can handle it.
  • Q-You don’t feel that these girls will never know whether they could have been teachers, or whatever?
  • A-They can be teachers. They can be brain surgeons. We have to help them become brain surgeons. That’s my job. I want to take them all in my arms and say, ‘You baby is beautiful and so are you and, honey, you can do it. And when you want to be a brain surgeon, cal me-I will take care of you baby.’ That’s the attitude you have to have about human life. But we don’t want to pay for it. I don’t think anybody cares about unwed mothers unless they’re black-or poor. The question is not morality, the question is money. That’s what we’re upset about. We don’t care whether they have babies or not.
  • Q-How do you break the cycle of poverty? You can’t just hand out money
  • A-Why not? Everybody gets everything handed to them. The rich get it handed-they inherit it. I don’t mean just inheritance of money. I mean what people take for granted among the middle and upper classes, which is nepotism, the old-boy network. That’s shared bounty of class.
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