Thursday, March 19, 2009

Looking for a Solution to the Problem - Book #1

Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye in 1970.  In her forward to the 2007 edition she writes, "This project, then, for this, my first book, was to enter the life of the one least likely to withstand such damaging forces because of youth, gender, and race."  This book is, indeed, a project.  It is, at a minimum, a masterpiece that deserves a long, hard look.

In The Bluest Eye, the reader learns the innermost thoughts, visceral feelings and subsequent actions of several people living in 1941.  The focus of the book is an 11-year old girl named Pecola Breedlove.   She is faced with every possible obstacle, both emotionally and physically.  Pecola longs to be beautiful.  The world seems dead set against allowing her to feel, see, touch, taste, or love anything of beauty.  Morrison convincingly places the burden of responsibility for this robbery on society's images which portray white people and their things beautiful and black people and their things ugly.

My parents raised me in a racist-free house.  They didn't just tell me that white people are not different from black people.  They didn't only keep our home free of crude, stereotypical jokes based on ethnicity.  They didn't simply make sure I didn't think I was better than someone because I had fair skin.  They refused to distinguish people based on race.  I never heard them describe someone based on their skin color or from where they came.  As a result, I am a person who is absolutely horrified by racism.  It makes no sense to me.  I agree with the horror that shines through Morrison's writing as she paints the picture of racism in this book.    I don't claim to understand what it feels like to be the brunt of racism because I've never experienced that.  This book gave me a better understanding of what that experience would be like because it vividly describes emotions resulting from having your character judged based on the pigment of your skin.  Last I checked, we don't choose the pigment of our skin.  I know there is a problem.  I see the reason, nonsensical to me as it is.  What I longed for as I read the book was a solution.  

Morrison repeatedly shows how white people think they are better than black people.  What is that?  It is pride.  C.S.  Lewis says, "pride...leads to every other vice...Pride is essentially competititve... Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.  We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not.  They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others..."  History shows that along way white people started feeling richer, cleverer, better looking.  The images produced in society reflected that pride and wah-lah! you have racism.  As Lewis also says, "A proud man is always looking down on things and people:  and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you."

I am baffled by Morrison's view that this book is somewhat of a failure.  She says in the book's Forward, "...many of the readers remain touched but not moved."  May you, reader, take up this masterpiece, and be moved.  Moved enough to remember in whose image you are made and to look up instead of down.


  1. One can also make the argument that it is not just the color of skin that can be the source of feeling that one group is better than another. One could argue that the shape of the face is also another source of racism that is equally as damaging. For example, if one looks at how the Japanese were portrayed during World War II, and how Japanese-Americans were treated, and compares that to how the Germans were portrayed, he can see that similar problems exist.

    Seeing how the Japanese treated harshly the Koreans and the Chinese, as well as other cultures, we can see that similar problems exist.

    One has to wonder what the cause is. At some point, one person had to hate another person or group of people had to hate other groups of people. Studying history one can see that it often benefits those in power to have a group that can be despised and hated, in effect, making that group scapegoats. Of course it is wrong and the biggest thing it would seem we can do is to recognize it when it exists and then we can do something to change it. I appreciate your starting this blog. Cheers.

  2. One way to effect change is to gently point out racism when we see and hear it--the insensitive joke, the patronizing comment, the stereotype, the derogatory, derisive statement about another person's culture/ethnicity. Different is not deficient, bad, or wrong. One culture has one way of doing things. A different culture has another way of doing things, but it does not make one superior over the other. Gail

  3. I'm not certain that not mentioning someone's background or skin color is a sign of rejecting racism. Wanting someone to forget or deny their roots can be the greatest form of racism.

  4. Willow...I agree that asking someone to "forget or deny their roots" can be the greatest form of racism. I guess the point that I wanted to make in describing the environment in which I was raised is that my parents treated people as equal human beings, regardless of their skin color or background. That doesn't mean that they were ignoring their roots; it just means that they didn't think of them as lesser because of their roots.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on how it is that we can solve the problem of racism in our every day lives. Please share when you have a chance.