BEDIO: Banned Book Highlight: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Hello, and welcome back to one of my final BEDIO posts for 2022!

Today’s post is actually a book I wanted to talk about during Banned Books Week, but I never got around to reading it, so I saved the draft for later. Well… I still haven’t read it, but I want to talk about it so I’m going to go ahead and post it anyways 😂

Today’s post is going to to focus on the history of controversy/challenges/bans: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

It has quite a lengthy history of challenges and bans since its original publication in 1970, which is also interesting as this is Toni Morrison’s first book. The Bluest Eye follows three young Black girls from Lorain, Ohio, after the Great Depression. There are a variety of reasons why the book has been banned, and a few of the cases of its banning are listed in the table below.

Note: Although The Bluest Eye has been around for a long time, I was only able to find challenging/banning cases starting in the 2000s. I figure part of it may have to do with how the cases were recorded, as the ALA has only been recording cases since the 90s (a few of these cases mention that the book didn’t face any controversy at those particular schools despite having been a part of the curriculum during the 90s, so I think this is important to mention).

YearReason For Ban/Challenge
2022This year, The Bluest Eye has faced bans and challenges across the country due to its depictions of child sexual abuse, and sexually explicit content.
2021In California, several parents complained about sexual violence and child sexual abuse, resulting in the novel being removed from the Colton Joint Unified School District’s core and extended reading lists during Black History Month. Although it was removed from the curriculum, the book was still available to check out from school libraries. There was pushback by other parents, along with national press attention, leading the school board to reverse its decision. The Bluest Eye returned to the curriculum list and five other books were added. According to the book selection committee, it refined its selection process, increased parent representation, improved the opt-out process, and added more diverse authors to the curriculum.
2020In Florida, a challenge was placed on 14 books by the It’s Your Tea Party and Florida Citizen’s Alliance. This was due to the books being “obscene” and/or
“[contained] pornographic material” under Florida law. School libraries only carried 10 of the 14 books, which included two books by Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye and Beloved). As a result, the Superintendent of Marion County Public Schools removed all the available books from its middle schools. Policy then required that a committee review the remaining nine books to determine the educational value for high school students. The committee recommended that the books are retained, which was approved by the superintendent. Although the groups appealed the retention of three titles from that list, the school board voted to keep them.
2018During 2018, The Bluest Eye faced two incidents, one a challenge, and the other a ban.
The challenge was in Texas at Uplift Charter Schools North Hills Preparatory School due to the for sexual situations depicted in the book such as rape, incest, and teen pregnancy. In the end, the book was retained.
In North Carolina, the book was banned at North Buncombe High School. At the beginning of the school year, teachers informed parents and students of the controversial content. Students were allowed to opt out of reading the book and replace it with another one. However, when the unit began, a parent challenged the book because it didn’t align with their values and also felt it was not appropriate for school. At first, a school committee gathered and ultimately agreed with the parent, believing it wasn’t appropriate for an 11th grade class, but recommended it for a 12th grad AP literature class. Eventually though, the district removed the book from the curriculum for “all grades and levels of instruction.”
2017In Michigan, the book was challenged, but retained as part of Northville High School’s AP English course. The challenge was based on a parent’s objection to the novel’s content, such as the depiction of sexual assault. The book has been part of Northville’s AP English and Composition course since the early 90s. The school board’s final vote was that AP students and parents have the option of choosing between three books covering the themes of oppression and poverty.
2015It was challenged, but retained in Oklahoma at the Durant high school library. The challenge was raised by a parent who was concerned about the sexual and violent content.
2014In Adams County, Colorado, it was challenged at Legacy High School, specifically in the AP English classes as it was considered a “bad book.” Parents were notified about the book, along with reasons for why an alternate assignment was offered. Around half a dozen students out of the 150 read one of the alternative book options.
It was also challenged in Columbus, Ohio, as the book was on a suggested reading list for high school students. This challenge was led by the school board president since it was inappropriate for the school board to “even be associated with it.” Another board member remarked that the book has “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.”
2012In Connecticut, challenge was raised at Brookfield High School because of the sex scenes, profanity, and age-appropriateness of the book. This challenge came despite the book being a part of the school’s curriculum since 1995.
2009Retained at Delphi Community High School in Indiana, despite claims of sexual content and inappropriate language.
2008Challenged at Howell High School in Michigan due to sexual content. This challenge came from the president of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education (LOVE), and prompted the county’s top law enforcement official to review the book to see whether any laws against distribution of sexually explicit materials to minors had been broken.
According to the county prosecutor, “Whether these materials are appropriate for minors is a decision to be made by the school board, but I find that they are not in violation of the criminal laws.”
2007Challenged in the Howell (MI) High School because of the book’s strong sexual content. In response from the president of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education (LOVE), the county’s top law enforcement official reviewed the book to see whether laws against distribution of sexually explicit materials to minors had been broken. The county prosecutor wrote, “Whether these materials are appropriate for minors is a decision to be made by the school board, but I find that they are not in violation of the criminal laws.”
2006Banned from the Littleon (CO) curriculum and library shelves after complaints about its explicit sex, including the rape of an eleven-year-old girl by her father.
2005Challenged, but retained at the Kern High School District in Bakersfield (CA) despite complaints of the book’s sexually explicit material.
2004Challenged, but retained at the Kern High School District in Bakersfield (CA) despite complaints of the book’s sexually explicit material.
All information is courtesy of Marshall Libraries

PBS published a great interview with Shekema Silveri, the Founder and Executive Director of the IFE Academy of Teaching & Technology, a K-12 independent micro school in Atlanta, Georgia. She started her career as an English teacher and includes The Bluest Eye in her lesson plans. Silveri discusses the important themes in The Bluest Eye, especially the societal standard of beauty (in this case, that having lighter eyes and lighter skin=more beautiful) since it impacts her students even to this day.

Silveri’s interview brings to light one of the main points of why book challenges/bans are harmful to students. Although these books may have topics which are ugly and difficult to discuss, they are a safe environment for students to explore these topics. As Silveri states in her PBS interview,

Kids who come back from college tell me that my class feels more of a cultural studies class than an English class. The way I teach is that we explore the world, and literature is the artifact. In my classroom, the novels are not the be all to end all. The novels are what we use to examine the culture that we currently find ourselves in.


And on that note, that’s all I have for today’s post! Have you read The Bluest Eye? What are your thoughts on the book and the challenges it’s faced? Let me know in the comments below!

Otherwise, I will see you tomorrow with my final BEDIO post 💀👻🍁

-Erin 🎃

Published by enordhof

Hello! I love writing about a variety of topics, such as books and music, and have my own blog, https://readingandwritingthroughlife.com/. I also do freelance work, which you can see more of on my portfolio website, https://erinfreelancewriting.com/.

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