For about a year now everything has felt a bit different. The holidays came and went in a blink because we could not celebrate them in the same way that we normally do. 2020 came to an end and 2021 began, although time just continued to creep on in a semi-blurred state. Valentine’s Day meant less to me than ever. And now Black History Month doesn’t even feel the same, but at least this change is good.
The circumstances that brought about this change? Absolutely, indescribably horrible. However, recognition of systematic racism and white privilege are probably at an all time high. We are still living in a nation that is divided (or maybe chopped up and then tied into pretzels would be an even better way of describing the chaos of it all) and as a white woman who is an ally to BIPOC community, I have to point out there is still much, much further to go. Nevertheless, conversations are finally being made that should have been made years ago. The actual inequalities of the world are being pointed out and it’s getting harder and harder for people to ignore it.
With that being said, Black History Month crept up on me because it has felt like Black History Month for months before February even arrived. I had already been revisiting come of my favorite black authors and turning back to some of the more difficult books to read in regard to their portrayal of race relations. There is one book, though, that I find myself coming back to for both reasons. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is one of those books that rips your heart into pieces while making you want to gauge your own eyes out from the horror of what you’re reading, but is also one of the most beautiful pieces of writing by one of history’s greatest writers. I also want to point out that I am not solely making comparisons to Toni Morrison within a pool of black authors. I am comparing her to every single human being to ever take a pen or pencil in hand and press it to a paper. Therefore, it only makes sense to dedicate a Throwback Thursday to her.
The Bluest Eye shocked me for many reasons, but I want to focus on two of them in the interest of time. The first is Morrison’s elaboration on poverty and the natural desire to anchor oneself through possessions. Morrison creates a distinction between simply being put out versus being outdoors.
Outdoors, we knew, was the real terror of life. The threat of being outdoors surfaced frequently in those days. Every possibility of excess was curtailed with it… There is a difference between being put out and being put outdoors. If you are put out, you go somewhere else; if you are outdoors, there is no place to go. The distinction was subtle but final. Outdoors was the end of something, an irrevocable, physical fact, defining and complementing our metaphysical condition. Being a minority in both caste and class, we moved about anyway on the hem of life, struggling to consolidate our weakness and hang on, or to creep singly up into the major folds of the garment. Our peripheral existence, however, was something we had learned to deal with–probably because it was abstract. But the concreteness of being outdoors was another manner–like the difference between the concept of death and being, in fact, dead. Dead doesn’t change, and outdoors is here to stay. Knowing that there was such thing as outdoors bred in us a hunger for property, for ownership.
The other thing that shocked me was how often the idea of a desire for whiteness came up. Cleaning, whitening, straightening, starching. Everything has to be white. White dolls and white actresses, both with blue eyes. Morrison shows how this obsession drives the novel’s protagonist, Pecola, to madness. All she wants is to have blue eyes. And when finally achieves this goal and attains blue eyes, what does she say? “Suppose my eyes are not blue enough.” All of this stems from the fact that whiteness was an entirely wrong representation of beauty. I hate to be cliché, but our differences are what make us beautiful. If we wash and bleach everything, we will be left in a world without color.
I do not have any desire to live in a world without color.
Reading The Bluest Eye is not for the faint of heart, but will surely leave you with a better understanding of how and why things need to change, as well where some of these problems stem from. It is a catalyst for its readers to see the world in color, perhaps some for the first time.
Come back next week for another Throwback Thursday!