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The Cautionary Tale Of Internalized Racism

There is a story that I once read in high school, known as The Bluest Eye which was written by Author Toni Morrison. The story about a young girl named Pecola Breedlove, tells a cautionary tale of internalized racism that tragically affects young black women today. In an article published by the National Library of Medicine, it explains how women of color are historically viewed by society and the role of internalized racism, “In the past and still today, Black women’s bodies and beauty have largely been devalued and rejected by mainstream culture, which overvalues the European aesthetic and undervalues the esthetic of other racial/ethnic group with of exception of exoticizing them.”

Pecola Breedlove fell victim to this toxic culture, and as a result her internalized racism sent her on a tragic journey into madness. The story begins with Claudia, Fredia, and Pecola having lunch, where Claudia explains how Pecola had her lunch a special way saying, “Fredia brought her four graham crackers on a saucer and some milk in a blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup. She was a long time with the milk and gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple’s dimpled face. Frieda and she had a loving conversation about how cu-ute Shirley Temple was.”

This was the first event of Pecola’s downfall because she was obsessed with milk and her idolization of Shirley Temple. An article published by the University of Minnesota, explains the symbolic meaning of Shirley Temple and white milk saying, “Milk has come to represent whiteness. Claudia and Frieda’s mother, Mrs MacMeer, calls Pecola greedy and claims that her excessive drinking of milk symbolizes her desire for whiteness. If Pecola continues to drink milk, then she will become white – this whiteness will somehow make her more beautiful.”

The second event was the environment she lived in and the family she lived with. When the novel introduces the Breedlove family and the storefront apartment they live in, we see that the house itself symbolizes internal racism because the ugliness that’s visibly shown inside out, reflects how the Breedlove family thinks about themselves as well. We also see that internal racism is not just developed within Pecola. Like DNA, internal racism runs in the family as each family member believes in their ugly blackness and copes with it in different ways. Mrs. Breedlove copes by using it as a prop for her character, Sammy copes by bullying people, Mr. Breedlove copes by being abusive, violent, and drunk, and Pecola copes by being invisible. When a fight breaks out in her family Pecola’s in her room trying to disappear, and everything goes away except her eyes.

Referencing back to the National Library of Medicine article, “The U.S. puts a premium on “fair” white skin, blue eyes and straight, long, blond hair and considers these features the epitome of beauty. Features more akin to the African esthetic are deemed ugly, undesirable and less feminine.”

This leads us into the third event that sealed Pecola’s fate, her obsession with obtaining blue eyes. Blue eyes are a symbol of beauty, happiness, acceptance, and a better life that Pecola will stop at nothing to achieve. After all, if they work well for white girls, then why not her? Claudia explains in the novel how Pecola worked nonstop to fulfill her dream by saying, “Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she had prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope. To have something as wonderful as that happen would take a long, long time.”

By the end of the novel, Pecola got what she wanted, but it came at a tragic cost. Having abandoned reality forever, Pecola created a new world inside her head where she has blue eyes and an imaginary friend who tells her they’re the bluest eyes in the world. In the novel, Claudia expresses grief and guilt for the demise of her friend saying, “We tried to see her without looking at her, and never, never went near. Not because she was absurd, or repulsive, or because we were frightened, but because we had failed her.”

Referencing back to this story, my heart breaks for Pecola. To see how internalized racism possessed a girl so severely, she sacrificed her sanity to obtain an unattainable form of beauty. She may be a fictional character, but her story exists in different forms today.

Recently, I was watching a video on YouTube about an African American woman Candice who is an African American but desires to be a white woman. She appeared on a TV talk show series known as The Steve Wilkos Show, and in the episode, Candice explains to Steve that she’s been bleaching her skin since her early teens. She also explains that people who are white have it easier than her by saying, “I’ve been bleaching my skin since the age of thirteen, because I live in a town where the black population is only three percent, and it’s hard to be accepted. Almost all my friends are white, and they have it so easy to me.” She continues “…life is hard being black, and society has caused me not to like the color that I am.”

To conclude, internalized racism exists today as it did back in Pecola’s generation of the 1940s, but we should be proud of the steps we’ve taken to overcome such darkness. According to an article published by Glamour editorial assistant Michella Ore, Model Katiucia Oliveira expresses what black beauty means to her by saying, “Today our beauty is about becoming more visible, and our images are being shared widely. Although there is still a lot of prejudice and erroneous stereotypes about us, the change is happening.” So, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The most valuable important lesson worth remembering, is that true beauty comes in all different shades of color, including blackness.

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