Yesterday was Dr. Toni Morrison’s birthday. Professor Daniel Black introduced me to the author in my English course during my brief stint at Clark Atlanta University in 2004. Until then the only black author’s books I read belonged to Maya Angelou (whom I was utterly obsessed with in my teens). Dr. Black assigned the class to read Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye. I remember how excited I was to be introduced to another black author…another black WOMAN mind you!
Since I didn’t know the city well, I asked a couple of my girlfriends where I could find a local bookstore. After hearing which book I was purchasing, one of the girls responded “I read The Bluest Eye in middle school. That’s not a college-level book.” She almost shut down my excitement with her arrogance, but I learned to look past people like that. She had no idea that I came from a predominately white high school and was only introduced to authors such as William Golding, Harper Lee, and James Patterson. I just so happen to come across Maya Angelou’s work when I was rummaging for random books at my hometown library.
One of my girlfriends took me to Greenbriar Mall to this bookstore, which had nothing but books written by black authors. When I tell you I had been living under a rock my whole life….I was astonished! I couldn’t believe all of these brilliant black minds wrote books that filled up an entire store: Sista Soulah, Eric Jerome Dickey, Terry McMillan, and finally Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.
This specific novel resonated with me because I could relate to the black protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, and her desire to have blue eyes because she felt it would make her more beautiful and accepted. As the only black girl during most of my time spent in a Christian private school, I longed for silky blonde hair like the most popular girls. I thought blonde hair would make me more acceptable by the white kids and teachers at my school. I noticed how nicer the teachers were to the beautiful, blonde white girls and it made me hate my own hair, my brown skin, and my brown eyes. I even went as far as praying to God every night for all the features of a white girl just to be disappointed when I woke up to face the painful combing and brushing of my kinky hair.
While I was more like Pecola as child, I am more like Claudia MacTeer as an adult. She was strong-willed, independent, and proud. She gave me hope. I was attracted to people just like her. Matter of fact, a majority of my friends are just like her. I was the only Pecola among the group, but I believe it had a lot to do with my childhood environment. Overtime, I unconditioned my thoughts and my friend’s pro-black attitudes began to rub off on me.
Morrison’s book is a reflection of what happens to someone when they don’t love themselves. I’m not sure if that was the message she was trying to send people, but that’s what I get from it. It’s important that black woman understand that our beauty is unique and is treasured around the world. Women from other races go through the most painful procedures to have what we innately posses. Our hair defies gravity. Our skin absorbs the sun. We were designed by our mothers from the melanin collection. No other creator can duplicate us. If we allow society to dictate how we should look or feel about ourselves, we will end up like Pecola. If we defy society’s standards and remain unapologetic in our love of self, society has no choice but to cater to us…the Claudias of the world.
Dr. Toni Morrison thank you for gracing us with your talent and with The Bluest Eye. You are truly a national treasure. Happy Birthday!!