I chose to read Toi Derricotte’s The Black Notebooks for her take on colorism and passing as a light skinned black woman. Often in the context of the black community, I feel this is how I am expected to function, rather than to exist as a mixed women. Derricotte’s family has experience with passing, describing an incident between her grandmother and her mother: “My mother told me how, when she was young, her mother used to get great pleasure when she would seat her daughter in the white part of the train and then depart, as if she were her servant” (34-35). There’s a secret pleasure in taking control of a situation that is normally out of one’s control. And this connects to the purpose of Derricotte’s book; to take control of the conversation that is usually out of her hands. Derricotte feels, as I believe many mixed people feel, that “skin color causes certain problems continuously, problems that open the issue of racism over and over like a wound. …[her] skin keeps things, literally from being either black or white” (141).
This is just a short mention of The Black Notebooks, (and I really mean to get to writing some more substantial reviews soon), but I highly recommend reading it. If you’re a writer, you’ll especially appreciate the chapter, “Race in the Creative Writing Classroom,” in which she outlines her experience of approaching race as a creative writing teacher. I see these examples as universally relatable to any writer of color who has participated in an academic writing workshop. Derricotte illustrates that these situations are always more complex than we anticipate.
Did you know Derricotte is one of the co-founders of Cave Canem? Check them out.
Here’s Toi Derricotte’s website & a reading below: