As I get caught up with all my mixed reading, here’s some new(ish) links:
As I get caught up with all my mixed reading, here’s some new(ish) links:
I had the pleasure of meeting and reading the same night as Esme-Michelle Watkins at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival. Since then, she’s had two beautifully written pieces published that deserve some attention. Check out these links:
Also, here’s the video her reading at the festival:
Congrats to her & wishes for continued success!
One of the reasons I love Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness is that it celebrates the diversity of expression of blackness while at the same advocating that the heart of this culture can not be bought or sold. Or in the words of Michaela Angela Davis, “You cannot have our cool-ass Black style.” Davis goes on to say that there are no solid definitions of blackness, and it lacks the need for the validation from mainstream society. It exists as it’s own enigma, and when you try to change it or alter it, it dies (59). This collection has a lot of mixed love going on, firstly with the eloquent Rebecca Walker as its editor. In her introduction, she calls for the building of a “periodic table of Black Cool, element by element.” While this book is an excellent beginning, the movement reaches beyond the pages with the site Our Black Cool and an increasing Twitter presence.
Some of the other mixed contributors include Mat Johnson, Staceyann Chin, and Rachel M. Harper. Harper’s essay describes the tough black cool of her father, a trait that she found intimidating, untouchable and admirable. Within her community, men like her father “were fighting not only to assert their identities, but to create them, to solidify and define their myths. They were making the stories of who they are – to themselves, each other, and to the outside world.” This is something that bridges the experience of all people of color, and certainly a position mixed people take on every day.
Johnson, (whose new novel, Pym, just came out in paperback), writes about identifying (or being labeled as) a geek in the context of blackness. In a style that is complimentary to his fiction, his essay is a mix of humor, cultural criticism and academic analysis of what blackness is today. He writes: “Blackness is one of the few identities that comes with its own self-enforced expectation of expression. …Blackness can be a rigid identity, with people stepping out of line facing ridicule and admonishment, or worse, condemnation. Those who reject the perceived identity of Blackness can be seen as rejecting the whole of black worth itself” (14-15). Right? What more can you can say?
Read this book. Support this reclamation of Black Cool.
Listen to Rebecca Walker convince you even more:
Share your Black Cool. Here’s my sister and I sporting our early 90’s style and ‘fros.
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:
As you will probably read in any review/mention of this novel, Edugyan’s strength in Half Blood Blues is the lyricism of the language; incredibly evocative of the jazz world she creates. In Berlin, 1939, The Hot Time Swingers face trouble when their music is forbidden by the Nazi government that is taking over. As the political conditions worsen, the group must flee to Paris, but not before a member of the group, Hiero, a young mixed musician, is captured. Mysteriously, he isn’t heard from again. The rest escape to Paris to meet Louis Armstrong – a connection they make through a mutual friend, Delilah Brown. Fast forward to 1992, when an old Hot Time Swingers vinyl is recovered, and a documentary about Hiero is produced, the members of jazz ensemble must reconvene and face what really happened that night. Sid, the only member who knows the full story, must break his silence; a history that challenges his past friendships.
Throughout the novel, Edugyan uses slang terms that create vivid, memorable characters and dialogue that speaks to the complications of mixed appearance in this time period:
[Hiero] was a Mischling, half-breed, but so dark no soul ever like to guess his mama a white Rhinelander. Hell, his skin glistened like pure oil. But he was a German-born, sure. …And add to this the fact that he didn’t have no identity papers right now – well, let’s just say wasn’t no cakewalk for him” (9).
I was an American…Son of two Baltimore quadroons, I come out striaght-haired, green-eyed. A right little Spaniard. In Baltimore this given me a soften ride than some. I’d be lying if I said it ain’t back in Berlin too. …any Kraut approaching us always come straight to me” (9).
Check out Edugyan’s website and the video below for an interview with her about the novel and winning the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
ALSO! I’M GIVING AWAY A COPY OF THIS BOOK! To enter to win this book, simply leave a comment below. You have until August 6th to enter. Share this post with others! [GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER – see below in comments for winner. Thanks zack for commenting]
Check out the website and trailer for Marcia Dawkins upcoming book: Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural Identity. Dawkins wants to change the discourse about passing, and re-define it in our lives today. Be sure to check it out.
Wench is a carefully rendered story about emotional complexities and violence in master/slave relationships of the mid 1800s. Lizzie is a slave who develops a curious relationship with her master, Drayle, that begins with seduction and turns into a kind of love that is punctuated with moments of hurt and disappointment. There is a (albeit completely unequal) power struggle between them after Lizzie bears two mixed children with him. Much of the story takes place at a summertime resort called Tawawa House, where many Southern slave owners brought slave mistresses to spend time with. Lizzie meets other women in her situation, though she is the only one who’s heart is really tangled in her unpredictable pseudo-romance; while her mind is also at work in hopes of offering herself to Drayle in exchange for the freedom of her children. The novel highlights the different relationships the slave women have with these white men and treads around the awkward dangerousness the women experience on a daily basis.
[Lizzie to Drayle]: “Our little Rabbit is so white, one day she could just up and disappear into the white race altogether” (21)
“Mawu was from a plantation in Louisiana about twenty miles west of the Mississippi border. …Of the eighteen children living in the slave quarters, more than a dozen of them were tan-colored” (39)
“[Mawu] had loved them so- light skin, silky hair, and all – but now, she told Lizzie and Sweet and Reenie that she knew all her children had been born of evil spirits” (40)
“It was better, she figured, for [her children] to know sooner rather than later that the white people they loved would disappoint them (146)
Here’s is Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s website (which has a slideshow of images of the actual Tawawa resort) and below is a video of Perkins-Valdez speaking about the origins of the novel: