The Bluest Eye Blues: Standing up for Toni Morrison
This week, members of the Ohio Board of Education criticized one of the literary works of fellow Ohioan and acclaimed author Toni Morrison for being “totally inappropriate.” They do not want Ohio 11th graders to read Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye because it references rape, among other controversial issues.
Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar labeled the novel “pornographic.”
Board member Mark Smith traveled back to the 1950s for his rhetoric, calling the novel part of “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.”
Read Wilmington College professor Laura Struve’s piece, Here Is What’s Wrong With Banning The Bluest Eye
This type of criticism is nothing new. African American authors like Morrison have long been censored for writing about contentious subjects. Reading about these issues, especially in the school setting, is not something that has historically sat well with some Americans who tend to want our children to learn only about subjects that are “good,” while shielding them from the “bad.” Unfortunately, this puts The Bluest Eye in the category of “bad.”
The novel’s main character Pecola Breedlove is a young African American girl living in post-Depression Lorain, Ohio. She is a quiet girl with parents who are constantly fighting and telling her she is ugly, thus fueling her desire to be a beautiful white girl with blue eyes. Her alcoholic father rapes her, and eventually she becomes pregnant. The story portrays the struggles and abuses endured by Pecola over the course of a year.
Though Pecola is a fictional character, her life is, sadly, relatable for many young women.
Controversial subject matter in The Bluest Eye has been both acclaimed and criticized. It has been revered enough to be placed on a reading list at Ohio schools, as part of the Common Core Curriculum, suggested for 11th grade reading and comprehension. However, recent remarks from Ohio Board of Education members threaten to remove it from that list.
The ACLU of Ohio has challenged these remarks by issuing a letter to Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar. “Unfortunately there is a long and troubling tradition of attacking African American literature on the grounds that it is ‘too controversial’ for young people,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “These attempts to ignore or gloss over complex issues do a disservice to our students, who cannot lead our future unless they fully understand the past and present.”
Discouraging students from learning about complex issues like racism and abuse – issues our young Ohioans sometimes face in their own lives – is not beneficial to our future leaders. A better understanding of social issues – not just basic reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic – is what makes for a well-rounded education. Is this not what we want for our children?
As a young student, I read The Bluest Eye. I gained an understanding of social injustices including racism, discrimination, and sexual violence. I was exposed to the writing style of an author who has received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and various other awards for her works. The novel left a lasting impression on me as a student, and I have since become a fan of not only Toni Morrison, but also of other writers who have braved criticism to write about complicated issues that affect American citizens.
I was a student who learned from reading this book. I would hate for other young students to miss out on an amazing literary work because a group of people thinks it is “inappropriate.”
I hope that the members of the Ohio Board of Education and other leaders who share their sentiments will take a moment to see the disservice they would be doing young Ohioans by removing this book from the teaching curriculum.
The ACLU of Ohio has invited members of the Ohio Board of Education to attend a September 26 event at Columbus Dance Theatre celebrating the work of banned African American authors. Additionally, the ACLU of Ohio is hosting a similar event on September 25 at Karamu House in Cleveland. These events are part of the ACLU of Ohio’s yearly celebration of Banned Books Week, a national effort launched in 1982 aimed at drawing attention to literature that has been the target of censorship.