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
Heartbreaking: 6-Year-Old Girl Commits Suicide With Jump Rope
10-Year-Old Colorado Girl Commits Suicide After Bullying
9-Year Old Girl Commits Suicide After Months of Being Bullied at Her School
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.
Yesterday was one of those days that I really miss my Twitter account. My account has been locked down since February because I expressed that the boy from Covington High School deserved to be punched in the chest. I was on the Twitter account of my workplace today and I saw #3FaveBooksWhenIWasAKid. I wanted to add my favorites so bad but I couldn’t add that to my employer’s Twitter feed so I will write about mine on WordPress instead.
Three of my favorite books from my upper elementary and middle school days are The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Beat the Turtle Drum by Constance Green and Karen Kepplewhite is the World’s Greatest Kisser by Eve Bunting.
I remember ordering a copy of The Scarlet Letter from Scholastic book orders when I was in the fifth grade in 1985 or ’86. The book was published in 1850 and takes place in the 1600’s. It’s amazing how the world hasn’t changed in many ways since then. The book is a story of a 1600’s, colonial Massachusetts single mom who is ostracized by her ultra conservative Puritan community. Hester is sentenced to wearing the scarlet letter A for adultery on her chest for the rest of her life. Her baby daddy takes no responsibility for his participation in the conception of the Hester Prynne’s bastard child. Baby daddy is the town preacher by the way. I believe that was the big revelation at the end of the book.
I believe that I got a copy of Beat the Turtle Drum from my elementary school library. It was the first book to ever make my cry. The story centers around two sisters that are very different. One sister thinks of herself as homely while her sister is beautiful and favored by their parents. The beautiful sister dies in an accident. The sisters were in their backyard tree house. The beautiful sister leans forward out the doorway of the hous while on her knees in order to see her pet horse. She falls forward to the ground. The fall kills her. The rest of the story is about how the family copes with the loss of the little girl. This book set a precedent for me. As a person that isn’t super emotional anything that makes me cry gets a good recommendation from me.
Karen Kepplewhite Is The World’s Best Kisser is another book I ordered from Scholastic book orders when I was in middle school. I’m not sure that it was one of my favorites back then but I remember it fondly now. It was a very sweet coming of age tale of young girls. Today we would say they were exploring their sexuality but we didn’t think like that then. The girls were just looking forward to and preparing for their first kiss.
All I remember about the book is that the main character Karen and her friend practiced for their first kiss. They had plans to attend a boy girl party and wanted to be ready. At the party a bunch of kids played a variation of Spin the Bottle called Seven Minutes in Heaven. The young party goers sat on the floor in a circle and spun a pop bottle. The spinner had to go in the closet and kiss the person who the bottle pointed to once it stopped.
The couple went in the closet and they kissed. A lot of suspense built up to that moment. They kissed with their clothes on and no genitals were involved at all. In contrast to today’s YA literature which is very dark and sexualized, it is very sweet. It’s almost like I grew up in Puritan times myself. Ahh, the mid 1980s.
Those are #3FaveBooksWhenIWasAKid. The Sweet Valley Twins also deserve an honorable mention.