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Archive for the ‘Toni Morrison’ Category

“The Bluest Eye” (1970) by Toni Morrison is a book about a black girl who dreams of having blue eyes. A short but powerful book that you will not forget. I liked it better than “Beloved” (1987), though that was good too.

Here are some of the bits I liked best:

I destroyed white dolls… Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love. It was a small step to Shirley Temple.

But the unquarreled evening hung like the first note of a dirge in sullenly expectant air. … The tiny, undistinguished days that Mrs. Breedlove lived were identified, grouped, and classed by these quarrels.

Hating her, he could leave himself intact.

It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds – cooled – and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path.

I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to live – just to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples and Maureen Peals.

We had defended ourselves since memory against everything and everybody, considered all speech a code to be broken by us, and all gestures subject to careful analysis…

A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.

We were beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. … Even her waking nightmares we used to silence our own nightmares.

… for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good but well behaved, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect, we switched habits to simulate maturity; rearranged lies and called it truth…

Love is never better than the lover.

This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers.

One part that I cannot find but loved is about how Hollywood stands like a giant above all of us, pushing its own strange ideas about not just beauty but love too, ideas that have no love or beauty in them. At one point the three girls are walking down the street and a huge poster of Greta Garbo looks down on them, a King Kong of white beauty.

I have had this book for years, but it was a comment by Miss Licorish to one of my posts (“There is absolutely nothing wrong with being black”) that got me to start reading it. Thank you, Miss Licorish!

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In October 1998 Toni Morrison famously said that Bill Clinton, a white man, was America’s first black president:

… white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.

What!? It sounded like something white liberals in New York would half-seriously say at a party. Not Toni Morrison. Not the author of “The Bluest Eye”. Not in the New Yorker magazine.

I was sure it was some kind of a mistake, but when I got the article and read the whole thing I found out she was serious, even if she did make the larger point that blacks, more so than whites, understood what Clinton was going through with the whole Monica Lewinsky thing: how he stood naked before the law, how his enemies were after him and there was little he could do.

Ten years later in a debate they asked Barack Obama, a man with black skin running for president, if Bill Clinton was the first black president. He said this:

I would have to investigate more of Bill’s dancing ability and some of this other stuff before I accurately judged whether he was, in fact, a brother.

He played it for laughs in what was otherwise a very serious debate.

What must Obama have thought of the question? Obama has spent years trying to come to terms with his blackness and here he is being asked about the blackness of a white man who never for one day or even one minute ever had to face these questions, much less their consequences.

Playing it off for laughs may have been the only graceful way Obama had of answering the question on sound-bite television. The question came out of left field and he had little time to frame an answer.

A few days later Dick Gregory brought some much needed common sense to the whole thing. He said, “Has Chelsea ever been pulled over by the white police because her dad was the black president?” He pointed out that Bill Clinton does not know what it is like to drive while black.

What makes you black is not poverty or a love of McDonald’s or growing up without a father. It is not even a certain nakedness before the law. It is not a way of talking, acting or dressing, like wiggers and assimilated Negroes think. It is having to live in a black skin in a white world.

So Clinton is not black in any important sense. Tiger Woods is black even if he lives in the Cablinasia of his mind, some perfect land where skin colour does not matter. And as for Obama, he is not mixed or biracial as some say, not in America, but just plain old black.

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