Wentzville banned Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel, The Bluest Eye, after the St. Louis school board cited obscenity complaints.
The Wentzville School Board voted 4-3 to ban the book from high school libraries, rejecting a recommendation from district staff that parents should decide for themselves what books their children should or should not read.
A review committee previously told school board voters that the ban “would infringe on the rights of parents and students to decide for themselves if they want to read this work of literature.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the novel was not a part of the school curriculum. Now, it will be removed from school libraries entirely.
Written and published in 1970, the shocking book by celebrated novelist Toni Morrison discussed themes of race, gender, sexuality, and growing up Black in America.
The Bluest Eye‘s main character, Pecola Breedlove, is a young Black girl who wishes for blue eyes. Due to internalized racism, her skin color is perceived as ugly, and she equates having blue eyes with a yearning for whiteness.
The novel also depicts scenes of rape and discusses child sex abuse and incest, which is why many school boards since its release have banned the book. The Wentzville ban was also among a dozen or so similar library removals for The Bluet Eye since 1998 alone.
Back in 2017, the novel was challenged in North Carolina, where an optional assignment was offered for parents who were not comfortable with it being part of the syllabus. Tim Coley, a self-described “Christian single dad,” complained at the time that “it’s astounding really that somebody thinks it’s OK for kids to be reading this in school.”
A year prior, the book was also up for a ban in Michigan, where parents stated that, “The purpose of AP literature as a class is to expand our understanding and enlarge our world, not make us more comfortable inside boxes of ignorance.”
Though controversial, especially even for its time, the novel has grown to be appreciated more and more over time by critics and historians. Taking on a lot of heavy source material, The Bluest Eye does not cut corners around the plight of African-American foster care in the ’70s, or how internalized racism can severely lower one’s self-esteem and self-worth.
For many teachers, parents, and lawmakers, however, the criminal sexual themes present in the book have long outweighed the novel’s pros as reasons to ban the book. Many conservative schools have also rallied against the book for its “leftist ideology” and “perverse, lewd” material, especially as the novel is added to school libraries and reading lists to promote race and gender equity among celebrated American authors.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Toni Morrison, who passed away in 2019, said that she wrote The Bluest Eye to show the psychological damage caused by racism.
Wentzville School Board member Sandy Garber, who voted to ban the book from the library, told reporters after the meeting that she voted to protect children at the school from “obscenity.”
“By all means, go buy the book for your child,” she said. “I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see.”
Currently in the South, school board meetings have also been met with discussions of Critical Race Theory, a conservative movement that seeks to ban the “divisive” history of racism in the country.
“The whole point and purpose of this is to have a chilling effect on equity and equity education in our schools,” said Heather Fleming, founder of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership. “We know this is about a story about a Black woman instead of scenes that are too mature, because we’re not banning Shakespeare.”
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