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  • Writer's pictureToby

Into Nothing

"Whiteness, alone, is mute, meaningless, unfathomable, pointless, frozen, veiled, curtained, dreaded, senseless, implacable. Or so our writers seem to say." - Toni Morrison, "Romancing the Shadow," Playing in the Dark

This quote has completely changed everything I have learned about whiteness. The ideals we have built our history on demand we be on an unattainably perfect path created by white Europeans. But what is at the end of that path? Toni Morrison was able to catch how that path is a bleak erasure into nothingness. ("In Henderson the Rain King Saul Bellow ends the hero's journey to and from his fantastic Africa on the ice, the white frozen wastes.") I return to this idea, time and time again, to check my misconceptions about perfection. I have to remind myself that messiness is life in its most natural state. Trying to colonize the natural is just white supremacy.

So when I read articles in Orion's most recent (40th anniversary) edition, or the article ("We used to be a story in nature. Now we are the story."), I see our barren fingerprints not just in the way we relate to our Black family, but to the entire Earth. Our addiction to plastic and carbon-burning fuels leaves no corner that our industry cannot be felt and detected. We still can't treat our BIPOC family with the dignity they deserve. Our ideals, our misconceptions on manifest destiny and the inherent myth of supremacy/perfection. are taking us into this white wasteland.

The Anthropocene threatens to leave us lonely on this planet. Someone along the way told us we were greater than nature. That we were given command (which is a misinterpretation of "dominion"). We believed we could colonize biology, and physics, and eventually all of history would be made in our image. If Ms. Morrison is right, and our image is "pointless" and "dreaded," we will indeed tell the whole planet our "mute" story.

It leaves me thinking about what Catcher, the main character in the short collection "Soaked" (due out in 2024) said about being "small" :

We forgot how small we are. These plants know. They are prepared for the day-to-day battles. It makes them adapt. When you lose those little battles, over and over, you learn what’s important. You know your place. And if you’re not in your place, you move toward it. Stop losing the little ones, you end up thinking you’re big, and lose the big battles because of it.

When I was writing that I don't think I realized what I was telling myself. I need to think less of myself and the parts connected to whiteness if I'm going to survive. This whiteness will be our undoing; the undoing of the world we have known. Because continuing to act this way will bring on the senselessness Toni warns us of. Too often I delude myself. I want to believe I will win, that it will all work out, that I can obtain the perfect. Really that's just the reaction of Catcher's grandson, Quinlan:

Let's go get high.
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