I am The Black Book
Between my top and my bottom, my right and my
left, I hold what I have seen, what I have done, and what I have thought.
I am everything I have hated: labor without harvest; death without honor;
life without land or law. I am a black woman holding a white child in her
arms singing to her own baby lying unattended in the grass.
I am all the ways I have failed:
I am the black slave owner, the buyer of
Golden Peacock Bleach Creme and Dr. Palmer’s Skin Whitener, the selfhating
player of the dozens; I am my own nigger joke.
I am all the ways I survived:
I am tun-mush, hoecake cooked on a hoe; I am
Fourteen black jockeys winning the Kentucky Derby. I am the creator of
hundreds of patented inventions; I am Lafitte the pirate and Marie Laveau.
I am Bessie Smith winning a roller-skating contest; I am quilts and ironwork,
fine carpentry and lace. I am the wars I fought, the gold I mined,
the horses I broke, the trails I blazed.
I am all the things I have seen: The New York Caucasian
scarred back of Gordon the slave, the Draft Riots, darky tunes, and merchants
distorting my face to sell thread, soap, shoe polish, coconut.
And I am all the things
I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in
silent water, dream books and number playing. I am the sound of my own
voice singing “Sangaree.” I am ring-shouts, and blues, ragtime and gospels. I am
mojo, voodoo, and gold earrings.
I am not complete here; there is much more,
but there is no more time and no more space . . . and I have journeys to take,
ships to name, and crews.
Toni Morrison, 1973
Copyright © 2019 by Middleton A. Harris, with the assistance of Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, and Ernest Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.