Making the historical contemporary-ish.
“Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness.”
“The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us (74).”
The battle for reconciliation colors Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” without a hue short of full-impact blunt force trauma. (Pun(s) fiercely intended) Race is everywhere, it is unavoidable, race in its fullest malignant garb is something insufferably conspicuous, yet paradoxically ineffable. The Thing that haunts the novel’s dynamic characters is something that intertwines and conflates the epochs that mark the passage of a lifetime: the Thing has happened, it continues to happen, and is determined to overwhelm as the inevitable denouement.
Let’s employ Darwin’s natural selection theory and attempt to decipher the etiology of the Thing. Rather than focusing on the trans-generational effect of genetic mutation, we will appropriate the concept as the Natural Selection of Consciousness. Utilizing a “Gardener/Garden” analogy, society at large acts as the gardener, the WASP (in short-hand) maintains the garden to their liking by cultivating other WASPs and sowing seeds of discord into the spots “dandelions” (African Americans), pesticides of self-hate sprayed meant as catalysts for self-immolation. In time, such a detrimental understanding of self -identity cannot help but infect the unsuspecting posterity, each inheriting poisonous qualia of consciousness and doomed to fight both the very human apparatus that sustains it and the counter-productivity of self versus self.
Pecola Breedlove hates the Blue-eyed ones. Pecola Breedlove longs to be Blue-eyed. At its core, it’s not the physical characteristics of white people Pecola desires, but the privilege of not having to acknowledge privilege. She wants beauty, no matter its incarnation. She wants love, no matter its conditions.
Pecola Breedlove is a pariah, and one of many. She is a trope.
Loraine, Ohio is a micro-culture of the shame that marks America and its interminable fight to wash her hands clean of the past.
In the text Benito Cereno, Herman Melville brilliantly utilizes literary tactics of superstition, omission, and speculative language as a means of illustrating the obstinate mindset of Captain Amasa Delano, while being in a precarious position, continued to squash any doubts he had about the shady circumstances of the San Dominick and reaffirm “the appearance of things” at face value. Delano observes Don Cereno’s odd behavior, the tension between crew and slaves, and the explanation that just does not add up concerning the alleged “gales” responsible for their unfortunate conditions, yet cannot seem to pick up on the overwhelming evidence that something has gone awry.
DuBois’s concept of the veil is expertly employed in the text to exemplify how the white man’s perception of the Negroes overrides his ability to see behind the “veil” of deception right in front of him, even when it threatens to dissemble on numerous occasions. He continually regards Babo as dutiful valet, loyal to his master Don Cereno, if not a little outspoken. Even though the whites triumph at the end by putting an end to the mutinous slaves, it is important to note this was not because Captain Delano’s astuteness in decrypting the façade aboard the San Dominick. The underestimation of the blacks was a grave one, parallel to the events that had transpired during the inception of the Haitian Revolution. Melville’s Capt. Delano states and restates what he believes as the inferiority of the blacks, their “inherent” stupidity and biological pre-disposition for enslavement by the whites. He observes Afatul, the black in chains, as being a powerful force presently subdued, an ironic observation considering Afatul was indeed only playing a part of a prisoner.
The additions and exaggerations implemented by Melville in this tale, as opposed to the events it is based on, are deliberately used to display the barbarity of the blacks when true state of dis/order is reveled. The whites are cast in a sympathetic light and Babo’s strategic planning and execution is downplayed and unappreciated, if even from a military stance, again to be compared with the betrayal and dishonor administered to Toussaint Louverture, largely due to the dynamics concerning race that were/are still present.
“How does it feel to be a problem?”
This cuts deep. Succinctly articulates the sentiment of the former American slave in post-Civil War and emancipatory laments. A problem, but a problem for whom? The former masters/mistresses, the historically omnipresent dominion of the White man.
Du Bois posits the “problem of the colorline” as a problem of the freed slaves as being defined by the whites, a problem for BOTH parties, a problem of mutual, and arguably unforeseeable obstacles, and a problem of inconvenience. Perhaps due to the repercussions of the late 19th century emancipation of slaves, the issue is the assimilation process on both ends: black and white. The co-habitation that has been without precedence and mistakenly overlooked, an abrupt change in the social structure with impunity? The problem may be how “unequipped” society has been/will be to handle this change with rationale. The transition proves not to have been seamless.
The “colorline” is the socially demarcated one that obstinately continues to reinforce a segregation between human beings on the basis of skin color, underlined by tradition. One’s emotional life is historical due to the connotations of such a tumultuous journey from being freed from the chains of slavery and duped into the participating in an illusory system of equal opportunity. “The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all”: the system Du Bois observes to have been built in such a way that is favorable to white people and rigged against blacks. Set up for failure.
Identity is not yours to conclude. “The veil”/”double consciousness.” A dual perception of self simultaneously existing within one entity. Du Bois delineates this state as that of man and African American. Also, two worlds: white world/white privilege vs. the disenfranchised/condescended. He had observed other black boys: growing bitter with all things white. Growing subservient. Playing into a self-fulfilling prophecy of wastefulness, internalizing the perceived ignorance and social inferiority of blacks.
His brethren have grown to be disillusioned, mistaking a latent form of slavery for freedom. They have not been allowed to utilize their full potential, merely exploited and mistakenly deeming THAT as their only potential, and perhaps consequently “to make them ashamed of themselves”.
Instead of vying for one consciousness over the other, Du Bois does not urge for either self to be subsumed by the other, but a future where both selves can be allowed to coexist.
This is not an ephemeral state of consciousness, limited to the context in which Du Bois was writing in and referring to, the concept of “double consciousness” and “the veil” is one that has not lost its potency over time. This resonates today with minorities and the treatment of “cultural/racial/ethnic alterity”. The hegemonic white-ness of our society is ever at play, compounded with the patriarchal exercise of politics, leaving me with a triple consciousness: Arab. American. Woman.