Literary hero Toni Morrison died earlier this week. Her powerful novel The Bluest Eye is what makes Ms. Morrison a legend in my eyes. The book was released in 1970 and exposed ugly truths about Black women and self image and the effect it has on an individual’s psyche and overall well being.
I read The Bluest Eye long ago and it has resonated with me for years. I am a Black American woman and I refer to the story of Pecola Breedlove often as I observe Black people in modern culture. The story revolves around around a young dark skinned Black girl named Pecola Breedlove. She is seen as ugly and not treated very well throughout her life. Pecola becomes fixated on blue eyes that she sees in popular images and wishes that she had them herself. Pecola thinks that her quality of life would improve if she has blue eyes, blonde hair and light skin. Was she wrong?
I certainly don’t think so. And it’s sad that the world that Pecola lived in made it impossible for her to accept herself. Pecola’s dark skin condemned her to a lack of opportunities and second class treatment in the culture of the day. She was born to be a proverbial whipping boy. I wouldn’t dare say that things haven’t changed. It would be incredibly entitled for me as a dark skinned Black woman born in 1975 to say that things have remained the same. But they aren’t very different.
Globally, people of African descent see beauty and freedom in adopting and mimicking European aesthetics. I personally have regularly chemically straightened my hair since I was around eight. It wasn’t my decision to start relaxing my hair but I haven’t made an adult decision to stop doing what I was taught as a child either. Many Black women go through the expense of wearing fake hair that is usually a straight texture.
I don’t blame or criticize Black women for trying to meet European beauty standards. Life is competitive and black women want the same things that everyone else wants such as basic respect, career and romantic success. It’s a little easier to achieve those things when you look like a person of European heritage. Pecola was a simple girl but she was smart enough to come to that conclusion.
I feel like as time goes on Black girls and women are having a more difficult time accepting their appearance in this image conscious, Eurocentic society. I had heard of several suicides of young Black girls over the last few years but the first article that I pasted below says that suicide rates among young Black children have doubled between 1993-2015
I never realized how much vitriol there was within the Black community towards Black women until I became a consumer of social media. YIKES! The voices are often mean spirited and openly hostile towards Black women who are not given much support or positive reinforcement. Meanwhile images of racially ambiguous and White women are glorified and placed on a pedestal for Black audiences. It’s a complete mind f—. I’m not surprised that we have problems and tragedies.
There’s no good way to end this post because the real life stories of Pecola Breedloves continues to unfold. My hope is that all Black people will learn to accept and love themselves. I hope that the world learns to accept Blackness but that is doubtful because there is a perception that there is something for others to lose if people of African descent improve themselves and stop being so European focused. I am grateful to Toni Morrison for illustrating this matter so beautifully. I urge you to read The Bluest Eye if you haven’t. It’s unforgettable and timeless.