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Dr. Tyra Seldon Asks: Why are so many people afraid of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye?

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By: Dr. Tyra Seldon

School districts across the nation are being asked to integrate more complex texts for the 2014  implementation of Common Core State Standards. As a result, some law makers and community stakeholders are concerned about which books are being included in the curriculum.

In  her home state of Ohio, Toni Morrison’s  The Bluest Eye is being singled out as a text that some want to ban. Set in  rural  Ohio in the 1940s, The Bluest Eye is a coming of age novel that explores the lives of three young girls who are being raised against the backdrop of racism and economic instability. The complexity of the novel is derived from Morrison’s writing style which often draws from multiple narrators and flashbacks.

In addition, she is able to peel back the multitude of layers that make up the girls’ worldviews. Two of those layers are the effects of incest and rape on one young girl’s innocence.  Morrison’s work is neither gratuitous nor grotesque in its treatment of these vile topics. Instead, she deals with them in a mature and sophisticated manner; yet, some lawmakers do not want children in Ohio school districts reading this highly acclaimed novel by the Nobel Prize winner.

In fact, Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar wants to remove the novel from the list of complex texts that teachers can use to teach the Common Core State Standards. She is leading the fight based upon her assumption that the book exposes young people to topics that she deems to be unfit.

Conversely, others argue that she is ignoring the more important theme in Morrison’s novel–how the intersections of racism and sexism have destroyed the family unit and created dysfunction and deprivation in some Black households and communities. Defenders of the text are questioning if either she, or other opponents, have even read the book.

I cannot help but to wonder  if some are afraid of the  The Bluest Eye because it accurately reflects an underbelly of American society that some would rather ignore or forget.

For now, The Bluest Eye will continue to be an option for Ohio educators. Although no school can force its students to read it, it would be a shame if they were deprived of an opportunity to do so.  As Mark Twain once wrote, “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”


Tyra Seldon, Ph.D. is an educator, educational consultant and freelance writer who is passionate about eradicating educational disparities. She can be contacted at: