The president of Ohio’s state school board said Sept. 19 that her characterization of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” as “pornographic” was a personal opinion, not a board position.
Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar reiterated that she sees the 1970 novel's graphic passages as unsuitable for youngsters, but said she remains “completely supportive of Ohio's new learning standards.”
At a previous board meeting, Terhar said she didn't want her grandchildren or anyone else reading the book, which is listed among recommended texts included in new Common Core standards being adopted around the country.
“The comments I made reflected my concern about the graphic passages contained in a specific text,” Terhar said in a statement. “I do not personally believe these passages are suitable for school age children. Nothing more and nothing less should be inferred. In particular, no disparagement was meant towards the celebrated career of Ohio author Toni Morrison.”
Terhar’s statement followed a letter sent earlier in the day by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio challenging her remarks.
The group called the book's main character, Pecola Breedlove, a young Black girl who’s raped and impregnated by her father, “a haunting symbol of internalized racism.” Breedlove dreams of being White with blue eyes.
This is the second time Terhar has been involved in a flap this year.
She faced near ouster in February after sharing a Facebook post on her personal page that featured criticism of President Barack Obama's gun control policy alongside a picture of Adolf Hitler.
She survived calls for her resignation as president at an emotionally charged meeting at which she issued a public apology.
In her statement that day she said she recognized “what I may say and do may find its way to the public domain and therefore must be measured and tempered.”
ACLU-Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said the organization is hosting a celebration of banned Black authors Sept. 26 and invited Terhar and other state school board members to attend.
“Unfortunately, there is a long and troubling tradition of attacking African American literature on the grounds that it is ‘too controversial’ for young people,” Link said in a statement. “These attempts to ignore or gloss over complex issues do a disservice to our students, who cannot lead our future unless they fully understand the past and present.”