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The Bluest Eye Vs. Beautiful Skin April 7, 2009

Posted by presto21 in Books and Movies.
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Hey guys,

I know haven’t blogged in a little while but right now I’m sitting in my living room at the table listening to a Goodie Mob song called “Beautiful Skin”. It’s fucking haunting me. First of all it’s a really really good song. (Jon, you get the assist for showing it to me). Dope beat. Dope chorus. And on the first verse, Cee-Lo kills it. He absolutely destroys it. But I’m not just writing about this song right now because it’s really good.

I recently read a book by Toni Morrison in one of my English classes called The Bluest Eye.

Some background:

Toni Morrison was born in 1931 in Lorrain, Ohio in a working class family. Thats “Depression era” working class. The second child in a family of four.  The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, her first novel, to rave reviews. But in 2001 it was banned from school reading lists by angry parents in Bakersfield, California. Just keep that in mind.

I swear there is a connection here.

The first thing you have to do though is stop reading this blog immediately if you don’t have the song “Beautiful Skin” by Goodie Mob and go download it. When you have done so OR if you already have the song then play it while you read the lyrics to Cee-lo’s verse and the first chorus. After the first chorus stop the song. Here are the lyrics:

Lyrics to Beatiful Skin
[Cee-Lo] Mmmm.. this particular song right here is..
dedicated to the black woman
And it doesn’t pertain to all black women
because some of y’all disrespect y’allself
because you don’t know who you are in the first place
This is out of common respect, for all women period
Word up, like this song, yo

Yo, I’m quite single, and occasionally I mingle
But aside from all the rest, she sparks my interest
No, ma’am, I don’t know you
Just offering the common respect I feel I owe you
Also, some conversation, companionship, common-ground and common-sense
There’s no such thing as coincidence in, me finding you here
And I really hate screaming in your ear, so some other time, OK?
I waited a day *phone rings* Hello?
This is Carlito from a couple of days ago, you sound tired
Forgive me if I’ve called you too late
But what better time to relate mind-state? Where could I begin?
Hasn’t anyone ever told you you got beautiful skin?
You’re more than welcome, what do you desire within?
I just, wanna be, there’s no need to put titles on you and me
Those are limitations, living and learning are our only obligations
Equality, honesty, independence, intelligence, emotion and devotion
Humbly seeking to hear God when he’s speaking
At one time, my mind, just, couldn’t conceive
A woman had to dress a certain way to believe
But, in the same breath, a-llow me to say
That, if you believed young lady, you wouldn’t dress that way
And I, was attracted to your class, I couldn’t see all yo’ ass
And, I was very content, and you deserved every complement
Now, remember our indifferences make us the same
You gotta have some game, or, many of you
won’t even be able to take care of yourself, uh
And Love, when I look at you, I see my reflection
So I offer my love, affection and protection
Shawty, you dead fine, but the bottom-line is
You’re still my sister

[Chorus: Cee-Lo] [singing]

Well, I say you’re my, beginnin my end
You’re my sister lover and friend
God is, your light from within
It shines through your beautiful skin
What they say bout you ain’t true
There’s no me if there is no you
I hope, that you understand
You got to respect yourself before I can

Woah.

OK now.

The Bluest Eye is about a 13 year old girl living in Lorrain, Ohio in 1939. Her name is Pecola. She is the “blackest” girl in school, a differentiation made by other black children of a lighter complexion than herself. Her family of four (mother, father, older brother) all sleeps in the same room. Her father is an alcoholic. She has no friends at school. She believes she is ugly.

Toni Morrison writes that her family:

“Did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly. Although their poverty was traditional and stultifying, it was not unique. But their ugliness was unique. No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly.”

Then she says:

“You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The master had said, ‘You are ugly people.’ They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning from every billboard, every movie, every glance. ‘Yes,’ they had said. ‘Yes you are right.'”

So Pecola’s family doesn’t just think they’re kinda ugly. And the worst part is, out of the whole family, Pecola herself has it the worst. In fact, she so badly despises herself that she prays to God every night to make her white with deep blue eyes. Her self-esteem is horrendous. It’s not exactly her fault though.

Her mother (a maid in a rich white family’s home) caters to every whim of a spoiled and blonde four year old girl while she bosses Pecola around into doing most of the work. The only thing they mutually enjoy is going to the movies to see the famous, beautiful, white movie stars and imagine for a couple of hours that they too, are white. But Pecola and her mother are shut out even among the African American population of Lorrain, which Toni Morrison depicts as self-loathing towards its blackness on the whole. In fact an entire town hierarchy exists with the lightest blacks at the top and the darkest blacks on the bottom rung. Morrison suggests this is one of the most damaging effects of racism. I kind of wish Pecola could hear Cee-Lo’s song.

Then Pecola gets raped by her father. Twice. And he gets her pregnant. He skips town, never to return. After she loses the baby, she never recovers. Morrison writes that, “the damage done was total. She spent her days, her tendril, sap-green days, walking up and down, up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear.”

In the omnicient voice of an anonymous but representative member of the Lorrain community, Morrison writes:

“We tried to see her [Pecola] 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…Pecola is somewhere in that little brown house she and her mother moved to on the edge of town, where you can see her even now, once in a while. The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world – which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us – all who knew her – felt so wholesome after we cleansed ourselves on her. We were so 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. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used – to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength…

…And fantasy it was, 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. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intelligence, we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.”

Don’t worry, while it seems like I’ve ruined the entire plot of the book for you, I really haven’t told you anything Morrison doesn’t tell you in the first 25 pages. But it’s still an incredibly intense novel. She not only throws a light on some of the deepest psychological recesses that get poisoned by continuous racism but manages at the same time to give an emotional indictment of the black community’s own failures. For not doing more to shelter its children. For collectively internalizing the foul imagery of black women in the media. For not standing up for, and reaching out to, its own daughters.

So you might still be wondering how these two things intersect.

But I dare you to read The Bluest Eye, then listen to “Beautiful Skin” again and tell me Cee-Lo’s message isn’t just the antidote to what Morrison is getting at. In a world where black women are still an exceedingly rare thing in positions of power, lack in opportunity for upward mobility, are ignored by the collective media, and are instructed by their own pop culture to fit a steretypical mold which robs them of their dignity- we could use more voices like Cee-Lo’s.

But if we are talking about those types of disadvantages, the truth is that all women in our society still have to contend with them to some degree – regardless of race or ethnicity. And Cee-lo, quietly proving he sees beyond race, stipulates that his song is dedicated not only to the black woman but “for all women period.” Like Morrison, Cee-lo has an indictment of his own. He’s calling out men everywhere to stop objectifying women, taking them for granted, and treating them as anything less than fellow human beings. Isn’t the novelty of a rap song about honest relationships with women what makes this track stand out so much to begin with?

He and Toni Morrison need to sit down and have a chat. Both of them are acutely in touch with the damage done to a family or community when any combination of racism or sexism is used to devalue people. In a male response to Morrison’s female call to to reclaim self-confidence, self-respect, and identity, Cee-lo points out that by letting ideological prisms distort our relationships with the opposite sex men can actually miss out on the greatest thing of all. That would be a relationship with a woman in which she can accurately be described as one’s “sister, lover, and friend”. Love is only as good as the lover. As a society we can do better to make sure we aren’t tainted by conventions, stereotypes, or outside pressures in our relationships with women.

Serious points to Cee-lo for writing music about some real shit even though it runs totally counter to mainstream culture. Also, please read The Bluest Eye if any of you have time this summer. And tell our unnamed friend that you don’t think anyone who was just a “vessel for children” could have written it.

Peace ya’ll.

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