I recall reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for the first time in high school; in it, Morrison took on similar issues as W.E.B Du Bois did in The Quest for the Silver Fleece. Ed Blum addressed Du Bois’s character Zora, whose interest in the white Madonna’s whiteness and purity created some comparison to three of Morrison’s characters in The Bluest Eye.
Thus, while thinking more about Ed Blum’s post on Du Bois’s The Quest for the Silver Fleece, I thought about the importance of black literature and its value in the complexities of the black plight. Much of black literature addressed matters of sexuality: rape, interracial sex, incest, and adultery – – topics deemed tabooish in some circles. However, black literature also addressed matters of historical themes, too: black ghettoization and rural poverty via Jim Crow, broken English and inferior schooling, as well as cultural remoteness and isolation. This, by the way, was a large part of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man.
Furthermore, I have found that Protestant Christian schools (upper schools and colleges) tend to avoid teaching black literature due to matters of sexual content; I suspect some of this has to do with how communities define purity of mind and intellect; I have always viewed this differently. Black literature draws on past conditions: slavery, Jim Crow, and the exploitation and rape of black women by slave masters.
Paradoxically, it was white teachings and preaching that launched the myth that black men prey on white women. Popular culture has used historical falsities to portray black men as sexual champions. Thus, the black man has been the secret fantasy of white women, when in reality – – it was the white male that served as the sexual predator.
Ed Blum’s post entitled “Beauty, Purity, Whiteness, and Godliness in W. E. B. Du Bois’s First Novel” stated:
Perhaps one of the most remarkable discussions in The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) occurred after Bles and Zora built a house in the swamp and Bles placed a picture of the Madonna on the wall. As Du Bois described, it was “a little picture in blue and gold of Bouguereau’s Madonna.” A French painter of the nineteenth century, Adolphe-William Bouguereau was known for his tender images of young children and women. Bouguereau painted numerous images of the Madonna, including “The Madonna of the Roses” and “Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist.” The image entranced Zora. She “was staring silently at the Madonna,” and asked of Bles, “Who’s it?” Bles responded reverently, “The mother of God.” Zora expressed confusion over the picture, especially the lily and the baby held by the Madonna. Bles explained that the lily “stands for purity-she was a good woman” and the baby “is the Christ Child-God’s baby.” Zora retorted, “God is the father of all the little babies, ain’t He, Bles?” When Bles responded, “Why, yes-yes, of course; only this little baby didn’t have any other father.” Christ’s lack of an earthly father resonated with Zora, for either she knew no human father or she had been raped by a white man and her baby had never known its father. “Yes, I know one like that,” Zora said softly, “Poor little Christ-baby” (81).
After reading Blum’s post, I could not help but see a relationship between what Du Bois’s The Quest for the Silver Fleece stated in comparison to Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Here is my comparison:
Maureen, who was loved by all because of her fair skin, green eyes, etc., was the envy of darker skinned girls – – an unfortunate reality about intra-black racism. Then there was Claudia, who hated blacks for assuming that good things revolved around whiteness. I am most reminded of Pecola, who was obsessed with Claudia’s Shirley Temple mug. Her love for Temple marks some comparison to Zora, who was obsessed with the Madonna. Furthermore, like Zora, Pecola was raped, but not by a white man. Pecola’s love for the purity and beauty of Shirley Temple’s whiteness reflects what Zora was thinking…. White purity and beauty were the established thought and norm of society.
Both Du Bois and Morrison concluded that white culture has conditioned us into accepting the supremacy of white religion, white beauty, and white constructs — which I addressed here on my black Jesus post. As mentioned in Blum’s book about Du Bois, he [Du Bois] could not understand why blacks saw Christ in the image of a white man, but could not see Christ as a black man.
White supremacy has conditioned us into accepting whiteness as pure and perfect; black men desire white women because they have been the ultimate prize…. That has been the teaching of Hollywood and Miss America. Black beauty for females depends on their features. If one were to look at the most celebrated black women over the past decades – – I am sure her physical features reflect whiteness. Of course Toni Morrison’s Pecola did not rise above the matter of whiteness like Du Bois’s Zora did.