The Black Experience in America: Whiteness is Beauty, Blackness is Ugly… the voice of a promised land…

Images rarely, if ever reflect reality. All images are a distorted view of reality since they are highly stylized. They are not a slice of life but a constructed version of reality. Many theorists argue that the version of reality encoded in images of our media is that which serves the interests of the dominant group such as corporations and wealthy white men and women in America.

Examples of some of these distorted, hegemonic ideas indirectly asserted by images of our dominant media forces are that “America is a meritocracy, that women exist to be looked at, that capitalism is the only economic system that works, that African-Americans are violent by nature, and that the poor are poor because they are less intelligent (example sampled and presented by the Bell Curve) and not because we live in a society that has poverty built into the economic system.”

All over the globe, women does not come into existence merely for the pleasure of being looked at, as suggested by our society’s images and media. And in reality, “real women” everywhere come in multiple shapes, sizes, and skin colors. Because of the higher and higher level of media distortion of the images of women, there is a growing rift between the ideal beauty and the reality. However, as we are becoming more and more of a nation of image consumers, the line between media and reality blurs. And we often — mistakenly — take the media to be a genuine representation of “real women.”

The role of race upon black women in media images is the most politically controversial and socially cruel subject of all as far as misrepresentation goes. There are by far less black women in the media than white (counting in race population ratios). And just about all of these black women represented in the images have white people’s hair (straightened) and light skin. These images are very confusing to young black girls. Because unlike the white girls they know, black girls learn from the media images at a young age that, to be beautiful, you have to become more like the “white” images that they see.

This include straightening their hairs and lightening their skins. But, no matter what, they are still black, second class in beauty. These African American girls feel that they must try harder than white girls to compensate such as in terms of starving themselves or in dressing. But no matter what, they are still Black. Often many of these girls cannot stand up to the media’s bombardment of standardized beauty images of a skinny blond Barbie type and go into depression over who they are.

And what exactly are black girls doing to their hair when they straighten their hair:


“[African American women] are basically giving themselves 3rd degree burns every time they straighten their hair” – groups of black females told me when I taught in a high school in the Bronx.

The drama of self-hatred and the inner-struggle for an identity for most black girls and women under the constant bombardment of America’s “white” images is clearly articulated W.E.B. du Bois and Martin Luther King, but humanized in the story written by Toni Morrison called the Bluest Eyes.

In her story, the ideas of beauty, particularly those that relate to racial characteristics, are a major theme. The title refers to Pecola’s wish that her eyes would turn blue. Claudia is given a white baby doll to play with and is constantly told how lovely it is. Insults to the appearance are often given in racial terms to herself however; and a light skinned student named Maureen is given favoritism at school.

“Whiteness is beauty…
In this book whiteness stands for beauty. This is a standard that the black girls can not meet, especially Pecola, who has darker skin than the rest. Pecola connects beauty with being loved and believes that if she would just have blue eyes all the bad things in her life would be replaced with love and affection. This desire that is obviously hopeless leads her to madness by the end of the novel.

The main character of the book, Pecola, is a troubled young girl with a hard life. Her parents are constantly fighting both physically and verbally. Pecola is continually being told and reminded of what an “ugly” girl she is thus fueling her desire to be a white girl with blue eyes. Throughout the novel it is revealed that not only has Pecola had a life full of hatred and hardships but her parents have as well. Pecola’s mother only feels alive and happy when she is working for a rich white family.

Pecola’s story is essentially her quest to find beauty. While she believes that the blue eyes of a white girl will make her beautiful, this view of beauty is not Pecola’s. Her society has revered whiteness, so she begins to see that as the essence of beauty. At the end of the book, Pecola believes that she got her wish. She has an eerie conversation with herself, which seems to reveal that Pecola has traded her sanity for the blue eyes she has always dreamed of. However, Claudia clarifies that “A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment”. By trying to conform to everyone else’s ideas of beauty instead of her own, Pecola never actually obtains what she wants. She thinks blue eyes are beautiful simply because society thinks that blue eyes are beautiful, which is what fuels her desire for them. The conformity in the end does not lead to Pecola’s true satisfaction, as what she is satisfied with does not exist.

Although she believes that she has the blue eyes, it is clear to everyone except Pecola that this is an unattainable goal. Although the goal is unattainable physically, Morrison makes the point that it is unattainable metaphorically as well. We cannot achieve beauty unless we achieve our own idea of beauty. Characters such as Maureen and Geraldine believe in their class and attractiveness, even though they are African-American (albeit light skinned African-Americans). This is because they judge by their own perceptions of beauty, and not society’s. Pecola cannot do that, which is why her attempt at beauty is ultimately a failure. Pecola fails to realize that beaurty is not based on the color of your skin.

Blue Eyes and Vision
Believing a new pair of eyes will change the way she sees things as well as the way she is seen, Pecola’s one deep desire is to have the bluest eyes in the world. The young girl’s innocent wish is marked by her perception of a world where the cruelty and hardships she suffers are a result of her appearance as an ugly black girl with dark eyes. She imagines having blue eyes will earn her respect and possible admiration. This is demonstrated when Pecola is teased by the little boys on the playground—when Maureen approaches staring at them with her light eyes, the boys back down and behave in a more respectable manner.

Furthermore, Pecola wishes specifically for new eyes rather than lighter skin because she also hopes to literally view the world in a better way. At home and all around her, Pecola is tortured by the cruelty and dirtiness she constantly witnesses; if she were blessed with new eyes, she would be able to see herself and her world in a new, beautiful way. Pecola’s desire for blue eyes makes a connection between how a person is seen and what he or she sees.

Throughout the novel, white skin is identified with beauty and purity. There are many reoccurring implications to the superiority of whites over blacks, specifically in woman. The adoration of the Shirley Temple doll given to Claudia, light-skinned Maureen being cuter than the other black girls, and Pauline Breedlove’s preference for the little white girl she cares for demonstrate the prevailing dominance of whiteness. As a result, women learn to hate themselves for being black and in turn relay this disgust to their daughters.

This is most apparent within the Breedlove family, where Mrs. Breedlove despises the ugliness she sees in her own daughter. Pecola is most affected by connecting beauty with whiteness, believing that love are associated with beauty and are necessary affection and respect. Her hopeless desire to be identified as a white girl eventually leads Pecola to go insane.” (Wikipedia, “The Bluest Eyes”)

Some of you reading this article may ask has society advanced since this novel was written in America? Has civil rights movements empowered blacks with more confidence and self dignity? Have Black people become more sophisticated by now and changed in simple attitudes? Has America changed over all? Here is a simple, latest experiment presented in the following article as a follow up to the Shirley Temple doll given to Claudia in the Bluest Eyes that will answer everything:

Black Doll, White Doll: Same Study, Different Generation, Same Results
January 24th, 2007 Race, Real History, Top Stories

In Clark’s test, children were given a black doll and a white doll, and then asked which one they thought was better.

Overwhelmingly, they chose the white doll.

Davis asked 4 and 5-year-old kids at a Harlem school the same question in 2005. She found the children’s answers were not that different.

In Davis’ test, 15 of the 21 children said that the white doll was good and pretty, and that the black doll bad.

Clark concluded that “prejudice, discrimination and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred.

Davis, who was 16 years old when she made the film, said the results of her experiment surprised and frustrated her.

In the powerful film, Davis asks a little girl, “Can you show me the doll that looks bad?”

The girl immediately chooses the black doll.

“Why does that look bad?” Davis asks. “Because it’s black,” the girl responds.

“Young student’s documentary leaving audiences stunned”

These stories are neither novel nor old, they are all over the history books:

“The Circassians became major news during the Caucasian War, in which Russia conquered the North Caucasus, displacing large numbers of Circassians southwards. In 1856 The New York Times published a report entitled “Horrible Traffic in Circassian Women — Infanticide in Turkey”, asserting that a consequence of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was an excess of beautiful Circassian women on the Constantinople slave market, and that this was causing prices of slaves in general to plummet. The story drew on ideas of racial hierarchy, stating that,

‘the temptation to possess a Circassian (white) girl at such low prices is so great in the minds of the Turks that many who cannot afford to keep several slaves have been sending their blacks to market, in order to make room for a newly-purchased white girl.”

The article also claimed that children born to the “inferior” black concubines were being killed. This story drew widespread attention to the area, as did later conflicts.”

And even today, in rich countries like America and France, which emphasize on Civil Rights, Human Rights, and Equality in Race: “Life, Liberty, and Fraternity,” they claim, such racism is still rampant and will probably be here to the stay a long time to come. While working in the New York ghettos helping to tutor the African Americans, I have heard so many heart-wretched stories from black girls and women, stories that will literally tear your heart out.

But then again, some of them will also tell you their unfaltering hope, faith, and optimism for a better day when they will be loved and cherished for the beauty they know that they intrinsically possess as loving children of God — the innocent part of them that has not been poisoned by the media images of America. The part of them that’s left untouched that allow them to dance with a free-spirit — hand in hand with each other — on the ghetto streets of this promise land, consumed with one another’s unadulterated joy and love and their God-given, natural beauty, hoping for that better day.


Author: Charles L. Wang

I lived a good life - a hard one, but I sleep peacefully at night knowing that I have made a difference in someone's life... Oh by the way, I'm from China: Downtown, China... Read my full bio.

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