The TODAY Show has announced that Jenna Bush Hagar will host “A Celebration of Toni Morrison,” a one-hour special honoring the 50th anniversary of the author’s debut novel, The Bluest Eye, on December 21 and the news did not go over well.
Hager, who is the daughter of former President George W. Bush and a known book enthusiast, is a co-host on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna and chose the novel as her December pick for the book club she hosts on the show. Since the announcement, many have expressed disappointment with a white woman leading a conversation on such a highly revered Black author, as well as concern over what Hagar’s commentary might be considering The Bluest Eye is a book full of complexities and nuance as it relates to Black living.
On Twitter, people immediately began to share there dissenting opinions on the special airing next Monday. One user wrote “Hey, @TODAYshow, can you not do this? It’s highly offensive. Even if you have black women as guests. It’s not cool to have the epitome of white privilege lead this conversation. Thanks,” while another said “What’s next Megyn Kelly hosting a celebration for Dr. Maya Angelou??? I can’t with the foolishness in 2020.”
While the panel joining Hagar for the discussion is said to include Oprah, Glory Edim (founder of Well Read Black Girl), Nicole Dennis-Benn (author of the novel Pasty), and Kessina Cheriza (a high school teacher who assigns the book for reading every year), many still aren’t fond of Hagar being chosen to lead the conversation.
As described by Today.com, the Nobel Prize-winning book “tells the story of Pecola, a young Black girl who grows up during the years following the Great Depression. Pecola believes her dark skin makes her ugly and dreams of one day having the blue eyes she equates with “whiteness” and beauty.”
With that in mind, Hagar as the moderator of such a discussion feels insensitive, inconsiderate, and tone-deaf. With so many Black women within the publishing industry, The TODAY Show had a number of options to choose from to authentically represent Morrison and her work. Having Hagar as the lead for this special, regardless of who is sitting besides her, is a slap in the face to the many inequalities Morrison’s work brought to light.
It’s not right that Hagar is spearheading the discussion on Toni Morrison, her work, or her legacy. After all, Hagar is the incarnation of what The Bluest Eye’s protagonist Pecola tragically desired to be. While it’s great to see Black literature, Black authors, and Black experiences as a whole being highlighted in the mainstream, we hope Hagar and those watching the special will do more listening than talking when it comes to speaking on the legacies of all Black women.