Perhaps one of the best ways to understand the perniciousness and also the deadly power of the “White Gaze” is when we see it internalized. In The Bluest Eyethe point of the story was that there was a Black girl who saw herself as lacking beauty without a symbol of inherited Whiteness: blue eyes.

So significant was her desire that she found her relationship with God had become null and void since God refused to give her blue eyes. In the same way, African descended people cannot decide to gaze upon one another with automatic statements of dismissal simply because we do not all have the same experiences, or dreams and visions. Our writers, our thinkers, our storytellers – they each have the sovereign right to see their visions, dream their dreams and tell their stories.

The White Gaze is a metaphor for a “power dynamic.” Early in her writing career, Morrison was told, quite directly, she had no ability to adequately write unless her writing functioned through the lens of what “Whiteness” determined she was allowed to do and to be. Morrison objected as an African American woman. This was a critique of her book, Sula. Morrison created the framework that she called the “White Gaze” as a way to examine and object to these assertions. 

We must vigorously interrogate these censorship notions – especially within scholarship. We are told Black scholars cannot engage with data from their own backgrounds, and Black American artists are limited as to what types of stories they can tell. Is it possible that these assertions are all part of the White Gaze? Can African descended people use this type of power dynamic on one another? If so, why and how would this be done? More importantly, how can it be stopped?

As one example, people of the African Diaspora might similarly use the definitions from the “majority” culture to dictate who and what African Americans must be today. Are African Americans being conscripted to this image of being “too western to truly be Black” and if so, how and why?

This question is important as we consider the affects of the White Gaze and its penetrating stare. The power of the White Gaze is not merely who does the looking, but rather, the ability of the gaze to call into question the authority of any group to claim self possession and self definition. Equally important, as an essential component of Colonialism, the White Gaze pushes people within the Diaspora to see themselves as working against one another instead of with one another.

Is this simply acceptable? Should we take any aspect of the Diaspora and consistently force that group to justify themselves? If so, to what benefit? As a methodology, calling out the White Gaze allows us to center African descended people without considering, tempering or changing that centeredness for the power structure identified as “White.” The particularity of this approach was created by an African American woman regarding her observations and writing career as often centered on African Americans.

Continental Africans, by contrast, often have the sense of being “sovereign” in their own countries. They may look upon their police officers, judges, lawyers, teachers, elected officials as all being Black – a taken for granted authority within ones own domain. But African Americans, within the US – their country of birth – are often forced to challenge positions of power. The ability to see oneself as having authority and being “sovereign” may be automatic for some people – but certainly not all. When African descended people live and have generational roots within a western context, the White Gaze has a particular message. It is to declare that we have never been completely free from being socially “othered” and the methodology suggested by Morrison is a form of resistance against this.

The Bluest Eye is about a young Black girl who hates herself because she sees herself through the White Gaze. Is it not possible that self hatred allows us to turn such a gaze upon others within the Diaspora? Blue eyes, according to August Wilson, symbolize White purity and power because that same phenomenon is quite rare in non-White racial groups. Thus, “blue eyes” are a metaphor of the power that “ultimate, pure Whiteness” contains.

There are some within the Diaspora who may be hated by others within that same African Diaspora. Some appear to have proximity to power but do not come with the “blue eyes,” or other ultimate metaphors of power that are desperately sought. Others may have lighter skin or straighter hair. Still others are wrapped in flesh that appears tainted by the blood of the oppressor, a reminder of liberties taken and dignity stolen. This flesh is a painful reminder of a history where my own ancestors were looked upon as merchandise instead of being seen as humans in God’s very image. The White Gaze is not only used by White persons. Whatever the reason for these tensions, let us be deeply committed to resisting the White Gaze, and restoring authority that was taken from all within the African Diaspora.

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