A “Cute Kitten Theory” of Race

“‘You think you so cute!’  I swung at her and missed, hitting Pecola in the face.  Furious at my clumsiness, I threw my notebook at her, but it caught her in the small of her velvet back, for she had turned and was flying across the street against traffic.
Safe on the other side, she screamed at us, ‘I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos.  I am cute’”(Morrison 73).

“We were sinking under the wisdom, accuracy, and relevance of Maureen’s last words.  If she was cute – and if anything could be believed, she was – then we were not. And what did that mean?  We were lesser.  Nicer, brighter, but still lesser” (Morrison 74).

Of course many of you will recognize this excerpt  from  Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  It’s the frequently anthologized scene, sometimes referred to as “The Coming of Maureen Peale.”   I believe this  scene from literature really illustrates my conceptualization of cuteness as a racial rhetoric.

A desperate chain of events ensues because of Pecola’s wish for her eyes to magically turn blue like Shirley Temple and the white baby dolls molded in the screen idol’s image. And, along with Claudia and Frieda, having to constantly hear all the surrounding adults describe the little white girls as perfectly lovely, the fragile Pecola is pushed to the breaking point. The arrival of the wealthier and lighter skinned Maureen Peale exacerbates the situation because of the way she is shown favoritism by the teachers and parents in Morrison’s semi-autobiolgraphical Ohio community in which the novel is set. The girls in the schoolyard are stunned when the favored newcomer proudly and maliciously asserts the ostensible fact that she is cute and they are not.

"Little Flower"

My dissertation is about how, similarly to Toni Morrison, this issue of “cuteness” served as productive motivation for Carl Owens and other African American artists of that generation. Owens was an African American artist and illustrator, known for a certain genre of printed paintings.  I think of his most famous image “Little Flower” as the epitome of cute kitten blackness. That the above image could be viewed as agitprop is not necessarily problematic for me. At least not, if we think about agitprop in a nuanced and more complicated way.

December 18, 2010. art, Carl Owens, children, cute, design, dolls, literature.

One Comment

  1. Safiya Khadijah Goines Al Shabazz replied:

    It seems the more conventionally beautiful and cute and sweet a non-white woman is if she’s more white than anyone would want it to be but not quite there the more honest viciousness blacker as in more oppressed women will show her and the more condescension and social-worker mentality more honest white as in wealthy women show her. We are more than ever before like Latin America in our mindset and even worse now than they ever will be or were with that Willie Lynch mindset. I am smack on the line of racial and class ambiguity-I’m poorer than anyone knows trying harder to get up, and I’m lighter and often poorer than most black poverty staying there. I am mistaken for white-I’m almost as White in my appearance as Mariah Carey. I’m actually as Black in my mindset and much of what I have been through as Iceberg Slim as in Trick Baby (A child of a supercunt and her employer Iceberg), and because I’m not so stridently left as what is put on that publishing scam for the free press as in you will never get a cent from it called http://www.nathanielturner.net I am not on it nor want to be in a million years nor would Iceberg Slim-who was much more intelligent in what he observed, much closer to poverty, and to the point of what the ghetto felt like and who was hurting who the most first and foremost than anything ever put on that site. Actually, Iceberg was very militant as I am no matter what people say about him having a white wife after he gave up pimping. We all know about Eldridge and Beverly, after all. Some might know about folks like Khalid and Marion and women like my mother and the bribing of a child not to tell what really happened and how victimized and forced men like they were really were by these white honest whores so much or their official wives a little less. Like Chris Rock said, white people hate black people and black people and n****s hate each other much more than either hate white people. N****s seem to love white people the most just because no matter what they claim. Something to think about…

    Like

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