Black Rage and the Bluest Eye

Are blue eyes superior to brown? Have you ever experienced or witnessed an example of Black Rage? In 1970, author Toni Morrison took on both matters in her first book and subsequent ovaric masterpiece: The Bluest Eye.

Here’s an excerpt from “The Bluest Eye” that taught me, as an undergraduate in Nebraska, that rage — especially Black Rage — was real and palpable and a force in the world even if one were unable to intimately appreciate or fully comprehend its significance:

Rosemary Villanucci, our next-door friend who lives above her father’s cafe, sits in a 1939 Buick eating bread and butter. She rolls down the window to tell my sister Frieda and me that we can’t come in. We stare at her, wanting her bread, but more than that wanting to poke the arrogance out of her eyes and smash the pride of ownership that curls her chewing mouth. When she comes out of the car we will beat her up, make red marks on her white skin, and she will cry and ask us do we want her to pull her pants down.

Blue eyes are the presumptive peak of respectability in Morrison’s book as this review suggests:

“This soil,” concludes the young narrator of this quiet chronicle of garrotted innocence, “is bad for all kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear.” And among the exclusions of white rural Ohio, echoed by black respectability, is ugly, black, loveless, twelve-year-old Pecora. But in a world where blue-eyed gifts are clucked over and admired, and the Pecoras are simply not seen, there is always the possibility of the dream and wish – for blue eyes.

“The Bluest Eye” is about self-worth, self-loathing and the rape of a child at the hands of her father — “Love is never better than the lover” — and the pain of a child burying her dead bastard baby.

The larger issue Morrison raises for discussion is one of categorization by social status and economic inequality and stigmatizing by physical looks. Morrison also demands answers concerning the matter of Black Rage and its role in a community where that rage kills the self and others and even wounds the misbegotten unborn. Have you ever witnessed “Black Rage?” Have you ever experienced “Black Rage?”

Is it Racist to label any sort of rage as “Black” to indicate internalized self-loathing? Does a blue eye have greater effect and higher status in society than a brown one? If eyes are the windows of the soul, do you believe the purchase and use of contacts lenses that change your eye color indicate self-hatred and a secret solution to overcoming branding by eye color? What do you make of this color chart for colored contact lenses?

Does it suggest satisfaction with the self or does it point to discontent with natural eye color?

What color are your eyes? Has your eye color ever been used against you?

Matthew 6:22-23 (King James Version) 22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

If you could change your eye color — which color would you choose and why? My eyes tend toward hazel — though I’ve been accused of having blue eyes, grey eyes and green eyes — I guess the color of shirt I’m wearing for the day helps determine my eye color.

I don’t know if that makes me soulless or just trendy.

61 comments

  • Hi David,
    My eyes are black and I am happy with that. I personally have no hangups with blue eyes either.
    Eyes speak a lot, no matter what colors they are of!

  • Hi Katha!
    If I offered you blue contact lenses for free — would you wear them or not?

  • Nope!
    Not at all…thanks!
    I am happy with my own thing!

  • Katha —
    What if I gave you research — and let’s assume I have — that indicates blue eyes mean you will be happier, have more money and you will be more successful.
    Why wouldn’t you want the advantage of that cosmetic “leg up” in life?

  • Hi David,
    I believe in my own hands and not in blue cosmetic lenses, I do not believe in miracles either.
    If I were in show biz, I would have worn blue, red, green, yellow, purple – etc. – if required. That could have been the part of the game.
    Moreover, if the research is true – is it claiming that “blue eyes” are the solution for “happiness, sucess and more money?”
    Interesting!

  • Hi Katha —
    Blue eyes tend to appeal to the mythic Nordic ideal of “blue-eyed and blond” conquerers that suggest etherealness and success.
    How many natural blonds do you know that darken their hair color?
    How many natural brunettes do you know that process their hair a lighter color?

  • If you look at top Bollywood actresses, none of them have blue eyes – Rani Mukherjee, Kajol, Pretty Zinta, Kareena Kapoor – it goes on. Perhaps the blue eye thing is a “western” thing? In Israel, too, blue eyes are no big thing. :)
    I feel so daft as I never realized that the title ‘The Bluest Eye” was related to that. To think I even read it in school and didn’t get that.

  • Gordon —
    The traditional Euro-centric Nordic cultures covet blue eyes and blond hair more than, say, the Asian or Eastern cultures.
    It’s interesting you invoke the Jews — because the stereotype of the blond, blue-eyed Shiksa plays such a forboding role in the tempting and tainting of conservative Jewish culture:
    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0003-0678%28198324%2935%3A5%3C518%3ATQFTUS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-C&size=LARGE&origin=JSTOR-enlargePage
    I agree literature can me magical and open doors previously closed to us and each new reading and consideration of the text makes a whole new world for each time.

  • Good point about the Jewish people. I know that in my life I have been tempted by a blond haired blue eyed individual or two. It’s funny because I can’t even SPELL blond – I always think it has an e.
    I guess I should reread the Bluest Eye!

  • I knew I must have been getting that from somewhere. Maybe I’m secretly English and just don’t know about it? I guess that would explain my attraction to English soaps!

  • I actually have green eyes, something strange as from what I know, neither of my birth parents have green eyes :D I guess I always did like to be individual lol.
    I actually had a blonde haired blue eyed friend in High School. She wore glasses and begged her mom to let her get colored contact lenses because she hated being seen as a “bimbo.” Truth be told she was actually very smart, but because she had blonde hair and blue eyes, it seemed everyone took the stereotypical view that she must be a bimbo.

  • I believe that all Caucasian babies are born with blue eyes – all my children were. Now they are adult my son is a blue eyed blonde – and my daughters are hazel and brown.
    I am glad the blue-eyed blonde has already been mentioned as an ideal held up by western society. ( If my son is anything to go by this applies to males as well as females.)
    I have hazel coloured eyes that can change from an almost amber colour through green to a very dark brown/black.
    I can remember twice having what I call black rage – where I had to remove myself from a situation before I lost it/ committed unconsensual physical violence. It is not something I am proud of – the fact that I can allow myself to almost loose control is a big NO-NO.
    If I could wear contact lenses – they would of course be purple – however I choose to hide my eyes and my soul behind glasses.

  • Dawn!
    Yes! That’s the other side of the draw! The Nordic stereotype, while lusted after, is not really taken very seriously.

  • Nicola —
    Yes, I believe all Caucasian babies are born with blue eyes, but eye color changes and “comes in” as they age.
    There are some who claim it is impossible for two Black parents to have a Black child with blue eyes because the genes progression doesn’t work out — then someone posted this video on YouTube as proof of a Black baby with blue eyes. Is it real or not?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La_8vj7PTFw
    Thanks for addressing the black rage part of today’s post! I admire you for having a thread of yourself remain to pull yourself away from getting physically violent.

  • Thank goodness for the public library. Perhaps a rereading would merit my first Urban Semiotic article in… well, it has been too long since I’ve written one, I think. :)

  • Don’t promise what you won’t do, Gordon! :grin:
    We’ve been down that road here before with you!

  • First opinion of that video is that they are too real ………… and we all know what tricks a camera and a good photoshop or equivalent can play.
    I remain sceptical

  • I have to say I’m with you on that. The eyes do look surreal and the fact that comments have been closed on the video suggests, perhaps, that the matter may have more going on than just its face value.

  • Sounds like a challenge to me!
    I’m on a short list of other people who want to read Bluest Eye.
    Except that now I remember it wasn’t Bluest Eye I read in school – my brother read it. I read Beloved. Oh, this will be a fun reading – and a challenge!

  • Sounds like a fine plan, Gordon!
    We’re only looking to publish new Urban Authors who are willing to write for us on a regular, ongoing, basis — so “one shot” publications are a thing of the past here. Keep that in mind if you decide to submit something.

  • Maybe that is why I have been hesitant to submit?
    I first found Go Inside Magazine in 1998 but I didn’t submit anything until 2000 because I wanted to not just be a one time submitter but someone who would submit something every single month without fail.
    7 years later that plan seems to be working well. Also, since last August I am proud to say that I have submitted everything on or before the 15th :)

  • Expand your talent by widening your audience.

  • Have I ever told you that one of the things I admire most about you is how your mind works? I honestly never would have linked one to the other but I think I see what you mean.

  • I’ll give you that five dollars when we meet in person, uhm, whenever that will ever be. Maybe next year as I am hoping to be back on the East Coast by the end of next August.

  • Don’t mess with a good thing.

  • That’ll be five more dollars.

  • Sorry! Five dollars only for entirely original ideas. I am pretty sure I saw that on an episode of One Day at a Time when I was a kid.

  • I know many stories of Black Rage from my grandparents, who lived most of their lives in Angola (while still “Portuguese territory”). My mother was born there too. My family lived in the Ilha do Cabo (literally Island of Cape) which is a long island opposite the bay of Luanda.
    Terrorism started in 1961, long before the April Revolution, but it was only in 1966 that my family left Angola leaving behind most of their possessions and the house (curiously I recently found out it has since become the town hall building of Ilha do Cabo), because the situation was getting ever more unstable and tense – basically, white people just wanted to get out of there.
    They say that those last 5 years they spent during Terrorism were very frightening and people were always on edge.
    The city organized armed civilian militia to patrol at night (my family took part in this) because of black terrorists. There was a hockey field behind my grandparent’s house and they requested that the the field lights be on all night so as to see whether any terrorist crossed the bridge into the Island. In 1961 all the arm-stores were sold out and shipments of weapons were requested from Portugal. People lived in fear because of the killing of white people in the interior (even in the capital 7 police agents were murdered) and dreaded that they would come down to the city. (Even the waters around the bay and island were patrolled).
    Black separatists (many communist) from the interior fiercely hated not only the white, but any black friendly to the white (in the cities black and white people lived together harmoniously). There are many accounts of atrocities that happened to white families and the black that befriended them.
    Some close friends of ours owned a coffee plantation in the interior and they were warned by the black workers to flee because the terrorists threatened to kill the workers if they didn’t kill their employers, which they refused, being themselves threatened as well. These friends told us how they at first didn’t believe the terrorists were coming but decided to leave after the workers begged for them to escape – literally on their knees.
    Not long after they left heading for the city they looked down to the plantation and everything was on fire. They left only just in time. All the black were brutally murdered for their loyalty and friendship to the white. The murders were always unbelievably brutal [WARNING! Extremely VIOLENT PHOTO!! DO NOT CLICK if you're susceptible!].
    I know more stories similar to these and my family knew many of these people. They were lucky to live in the city. Some cousins of ours lived in the interior and went to sleep every night in Luanda at my grandparent’s after the killings started.
    Some white families didn’t make it, by either refusing to escape (unwilling to leave their lives and business behind) or were caught by surprise and savaged, raped and mutilated. Women were brutalized in a very specific, horrifying way such as I won’t even describe here. The murderers were also known to mutilate white babies and consume their flesh allegedly saying they enjoyed the “taste of white flesh”. This is so monstrous it’s hard to believe it really happened, but it did.
    ____________//____________
    Between blue eyes and status… interesting question. Why are blue eyes proportionately more common among traditional aristocracy than with “commoners”?
    Aristocrats used to marry among themselves to preserve status, and the “blue eye gene” is recessive. That would seem to explain the predominance of blue eye in this group as it takes a pair or recessive genes to manifest the trait; but I wonder when and why this all started. Did ancient monarchs hesitate to grant land and titles to brown-eyed vassals?
    ____________//____________
    My eyes are a dark brown. I wouldn’t change their colour if I were given the chance, because I really enjoy the sharp contrast between dark and eyes and hair against light skin.
    I bought contact lenses once just for fun, they were an unnatural green, like Orc eyes :) I just wore them half a dozen times or less
    I did it for fun, but I agree many people do it to conceal their natural colour or to look more outlandish.
    I find amber and grey eyes handsome as well, but in truth colour doesn’t really matter, it’s what’s behind the eyes that matters.
    I’ve never seen violet eyes… (><,)

  • Dominant and Recessive Characteristics
    By the way, take some time to check your genes… blame the parent or grandparent that shares something you dislike with you :P

  • Very interesting discussion.
    Quick notes to whomever corrected Gordon, blond refers to male, blonde to female. There is nothing English about these French words ;-)
    @ Gordon: There is nothing typically western about fascination with light eyes…
    Given your vast knowledge of Indian film actresses, I am surprised you did not mention Aishwarya Rai. She has green-ish eyes. Rani Mukherjee has brown eyes. Kajol has green-ish eyes. :-) There was an actress Rakhi, in olden days, who has light brown eyes and she was very popular.
    Which tells you that I am Indian.
    My parents had light brown and grey eyes, and I was born with blue eyes that remained blue till I was 7 or 8.
    As a child, I was treated like a doll by many neighbours etc. which was odd. All due to relatively uncommon combination of fair skin and blue eyes not in the foothills of Kashmir but in the plains and plateaus of North India.
    Then the eyes changed to a hue of green with tinges of blue and brown. I sometimes wear olive green clothes and the eyes look green. Other days blue makes them bluer. Brown strangely makes them look more green than brown. There is a thin, thin circle like ring of yellow too which one can see if looking closely.
    Later in life, much male attention came my way, thanks to the same stereotypical obsession in India with fair skin and light eyes.
    Strangers – now I live in England, the soi-disant bastion of the stiff upper lip – come up to me and ask “are they your own?”. I suppose they mean if they are lenses. Depending on my mood, I sometimes smile and ask why they want to know, or stare at them like they are loony and walk away, or tell them those are specially ordered lenses from NASA… ;-)
    Now since in India we have not had much exposure to the Nordic blond/ blonde, I wonder whether this sort of fascination is something genetic and primeval instead of something socially constructed?
    Thanks.

  • Thanks for your usual excellent insight and expertise, iris! You should be publishing your fantastic comments here as full articles!
    I thank you for sharing the fascinating history of your family. Those images of Angola are stunning.
    The image of the beheadings looks unreal.
    What a life you have had!

  • Shefaly —
    Welcome and thanks for your comment!
    Your story reminds me of heterochromia in the human population where there are different colors in each eye:
    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/17220.htm
    I’ve known at least three people with Blue/Green and Brown/Green heterochromia in my life and the research tells me that is an incredibly high number.
    I’ve always had to have it pointed out to me because you can only look at a person in one of their eyes while speaking to them and we instinctively always choose the same eye to focus on for communication so we assume the other eye is the same color.
    When you focus on one eye in others and that eye is missing or damaged or misbehaving, it can throw you off as you switch to their other eye. That’s an Uncanny experience!

  • David: Thanks.
    A cousin of mine, with both parents of dark eyes, has a brown and a blue eye. It was cute when she was a kid; as a woman of 22, she is not finding it very cute now.
    I believe David Bowie has the same colour configuration.
    Those uncanny experiences I have had some. But I do notice eyes all the time and have been known to confess in the blogosphere my weakness for blue eyes – like Steve McQueen’s not Frank Sinatra’s; the former were a warmer hue, the latter cold. If that were possible..
    Oh well, in matters of life, the eyes have it! ;-)

  • Shefaly!
    Why doesn’t you cousin find her heterochromia cute any longer? Are others put off by it? As I remember it can be a creepy first experience as you shuttle between two eyes of a different color in the same head. :grin:
    Here’s a scary find:
    http://images.google.com/images?q=heterochromia
    You’re right about Bowie.
    Marilyn Manson fakes his.

  • Shefaly directed me to this discussion and indeed it is an interesting one. Indeed, in India there is a fascination for fair skin and light eyes go with that. It’s more the fair skin though. My nephew has green eyes because his grandfather had. But mostly people go gaga over the colour of the skin. quite a few people from the konkan region (western coast on India) tend to have white skin and light eyes due to the portuguese ‘influence’. In the north of India also you will find this and again it is the blood from the greeks…or other invaders. originally the inhabitants of the indian subcontient are dark eyed and dark skinned.
    but again it’s not blue eyes as such…it’s the skin colour thats more important.
    and btw, I also had the feeling that westerners thought that blue eyed blondes were pretty but not brainy. and it’s news to me that these people are more successful.
    As far as I know in India this does not hold true at all (being more successful if you are fair), barring the film and modeling industry.
    sorry for any typos made, am writing in a hurry!

  • David:
    She is Indian and lives in India. I suppose it does creep people out. And the arranged marriage ‘market’ (I cannot think of a better term, sorry) is very cruel about things… What can I say?
    Really? Manson fakes his?? How quaint!

  • Nita:
    “As far as I know in India this does not hold true at all (being more successful if you are fair), barring the film and modeling industry.”
    You forgot the ‘arranged marriage’ market, where no matter how dark, ugly, obese or useless a guy is, his bride needs to be fair, beautiful, slim, homely but professional (for the last bit, read: I want a lifestyle I cannot buy myself and I want a free servant) ;-)

  • Hi Nita!
    Thanks for that information! One of our writers here, Kathakali Chatterjee, has spoken often about her grandparents not approving of her skin color — and its interesting how skin color is related to food in their view. Katha has said they believe she is too “wheat” and not “peaches and cream” enough for their taste. I can’t imagine having a civil conversation with anyone, let alone blood family, after that sort of unmitigated condemnation of the unchangeable blood self.

  • Ah, Shefaly! That makes sense. Different colored eyes do indicate a burp in the gene pool — and those seeking the perfect arranged marriage — is there such a thing? — would wander away from the rare or the exotic. We are programmed to want ordinary, predictable and safe.
    One of my former students in Public Health was a Sikh who was born in the USA but her parents were not. She was getting her MA/PhD in public health and then going on to medical school for a full ride to MD and then she was going to journalism school for another three years after that for a third MA — all in a continued effort to avoid the pressure from her parents that she should be married with children by now. The only “out” she had was to remain in school or else all the pressure of India would come down on her soul.

  • David:
    I have heard other such stories of eternal schooling too. It makes me sad to see parents claim this is love. What price genetic propagation eh?
    I grew up in a liberal madhouse where all of us did what we wanted and are happier for it. :-)

  • I know many young, incredible, fantastic Indian women who have the world before them and could feast from the merits of their brilliant minds and hard work — yet their families are a cudgel against achievement because the only thing that matters to the family is the man who decides if their daughter is worthy of marriage… or not.

  • Hi David,
    I didn’t exactly live those things, I was born much later (1984) in Porto which is where I’m happy to live :) But my grandparents (my mother’s side only) lived those things and have always told me so many stories with that dreamy look of longing that I practically feel I was there.
    I do know personally the people I mentioned however.
    Everyone that’s lived in Luanda said it was the perfect life, that is until Terrorism and the Civil War that followed drove them away. But now the war is over many Portuguese are returning, not the ones that lived there before though, they say it will never be the same again. Fortunately from the accounts we hear it seems there is no longer much Black Rage.
    Writing articles would be interesting indeed! :)

  • Hi iris!
    How are you able to disconnect your life from your grandparents? Aren’t their experiences yours? Didn’t their hopes and dreams form you and warn you and tell you where you came from and what they need for your future?
    When you’re ready to start writing — get in touch! You’re a pre-born star! :grin: You can even use this blog as “your blog” in your linked URL and beyond if you wish.

  • That’s exactly how I feel, that their experience is mine too. Sometimes they have difficulty remembering names and circumstances and I actually remind them myself :D as I’ve been listening to their stories ever since I can remember heheh
    Thanks David, I’ll be happy to! When I think of something I’ll let you know! There’s no commitment to write on a regular basis is there? (As I have exams soon…)

  • Right on, iris! We’re all connected and through storytelling we learn to comprehend each other and share dreams and values.
    Here’s our writing page:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/writing/
    Here’s our authors page:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/authors/
    There is a minimal staff commitment that you should read and consider that includes writing at least one new article a month — but whatever you decision we’re thrilled to have you with us in any way you choose.

  • David:
    I know this was for Iris:
    “How are you able to disconnect your life from your grandparents? Aren’t their experiences yours? Didn’t their hopes and dreams form you and warn you and tell you where you came from and what they need for your future?”
    May I recommend a film you may have already seen? It is called ‘Skokie’. The young generation and their grandparents’ views are starkly different on the issue at the centre of the film.
    I watched it as part of one of my MBA courses years ago, and I have never forgotten the film. I wrote about it in the James ‘Black people are stupid’ Watson saga most recently and was surprised to note that not many know about the film.
    Thanks.

  • Shefaly —
    I have seen the Skokie made for television movie if that is what you mean. I agree views may be starkly different from generation to generation but in my comment to iris I was making a point about evolutionary, familial, genetic connections where hopes and dreams are created and analyzed and passed down. The receiver may not recognize or honor the gifts, but they are still there as part of their genetic code of values.

  • David:
    Thanks. I understood your point in your note to Iris but I cited the film, as an illustration that sharing a genetic or familial connection does not always translate to a sympathetic stance after a gap of a generation or more.
    In Europe, for instance, there is still a tendency to point at Germans and hold them responsible for Hitler and his actions. Now there are signs that the young generation does not care to be lumbered with the pain and the responsibility of whatever their ancestors did or abetted.
    So I think at some point that connection gets weaker and new hopes and dreams are forged, rightly so too. It holds true for both good and not-so-good memories..

  • Shefaly —
    I understand your point, but I feel you are correcting me for a point I was not trying to make. :grin:
    In your scenario, I believe the “new” generation of Germans can deny their past all they want, but experience, and its everlasting aftereffects are still coded within them whether they wish to recognize those experiences or not.
    I’m not saying the “Sins of the Father are visited upon the son” is an undeniable psychic mandate — but I do believe events and dreams and dismay translated by the human body cannot be coded out of the core and not be passed along to the next created generation.
    I argue history and family experiences are part of the genetic code of future generations that cannot be wished or washed away.

  • David:
    I am of course taking a social constructivist view and I am not attempting to ‘correct’ anything merely stating another way of interpreting the same thing. :-)
    You mentioned the genetic bit later (not in the original comment)…
    And yes, the genetic link may not be wished or washed away, but the puissance of its impact is probably equally shaped by where in the nurture/ nature debate a person stands (or how he/ she copes with the nature/ nurture balance).
    Thanks.

  • Shefaly —
    I think in the original discussion, iris was talking about things that happened in her “life” before she was born and how those images and experiences happened in her grandparent’s lifetime.
    I then offered the idea those external experiences were hers as well. I don’t know how those experiences could not be genetically shared and coded since they were not directly observed.
    That said, I am with you on your arguments and your fine mind and the creative and persuasive way you make connections and conclusions in the world! :grin:

  • Hi David!
    Sorry, I missed the fun!
    I had a colleague who was very beautiful and blond but she was a little apprehensive about it, so was my roommate’s girlfriend – as blonds are supposed to be a little less intelligent or so…
    I guess that was a practical joke; same as ours (someone is not beautiful unless h/she has a peach cream complexion).
    I am not at all fond of this Nordic color fixation – it reminds me of the Hitlarian obsession.

  • Nice to see you again, Katha!
    I, too, am sorry you missed the fun.
    Thanks for your thoughts!

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