The table of contents reveals some favorites from the past: Julia Alvarez, James McBride, Lisa See, and Danzy Senna. I particularly enjoyed Senna's fantastical essay about the Year of the Mulatto and the fetishizing of multiculturalism with witticisms like
At the front of the crowd, two brown-skinned women in Birkenstocks carried a banner that read FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED JEW BOYS WHEN THE NEGROES AIN'T ENOUGH. p.13
I told him that multiculturalism should be about confronting racism and power, not about plates of ethnic food. p.20
Class analysis isn't quite as sexy as a grinning mulatto on a golf course. p.20
I expected this book to be exclusively by bi- or multiracial writers, perhaps because I read about it in a zine by a biracial woman whose focus was on the "what are you" question, and at first I was annoyed that it didn't meet my expectation. The authors, in addition to being bi- or multiracial are immigrants and even some people of color who have a dual relationship to "American" culture. I guess that's where the "bi-cultural" comes in.
As I have said in previous book reviews (in my zine), I have a real fascination for writing on this topic. I hope I'm not fetishizing it in my appreciation, and I have to admit that part of the appeal may be that often the writers are "half" or "part" white, which often causes them to offer a gentler critique of racism and white privilege. Authors, especially those who pass as white or have white relatives they love or respect, have to acknowledge their own part in the problem. Confronting one's own racism is difficult and painful, which is probably why it's sometimes easier to take from another white or part-white person. For that reason, I wholeheartedly recommend White Like Me by Tim Wise. That's not to say that I don't love, admire, and recommend writings on race by people of color. I'm just observing that white and mixed writers may be helpful at providing an entry point for the discussion for fearful/guilty white folks.
Apologies for getting off track. Back to the book at hand.
What kind of surprised me given that the ratio of female to male writers I read (favoring the former by a wide margin) is that many of the essays I liked best were by men, including Francisco Goldman and Philippe Wamba (in particular).
Goldman's essay is about time he spent in Madrid, and how everywhere he went he was taken for a Moro, a Spaniard of African descent. Goldman is a Latino and Jewish, fyi. He experienced racism and suspicion in Spain greater than he'd ever faced before.
I remember feeling--by which I mean taking it personally--in Madrid how much this was all about denying a person's humanity, his very existence, of humiliating and even castrating him every day: pretending that that's not a man out there, buzzing to be let into your little boutique, raising his hand for a cab, knocking at the hidden-away trendy rock club door, where of course, you idiot, they don't let moros in. And I remember thinking that if this really were a central, heavy, defining fact of my life, then I probably wouldn't want to be a writer at all; I wouldn't want to write about it and I wouldn't know how to ignore it. I'd be too sick of the daily weight of anger and absurdity to want to recreate it in words, and if I had to, then I'd find some other art, nonverbal, to pour myself into. I'd want to soar, unleashing celebration and fury and love and pain in some way that it would seem trivial to want to justify or explain. p.57-58
Okay, maybe I'm not done yet with the discussion of why this material is important coming from white and biracial people. Goldman had the chance to see the racism fresh--he hadn't experienced it like that his whole life, so he might see it all the more clearly. It's hard to stop myself from explaining a million things and apologizing in advance if I'm getting it wrong or offending people of color, so let me just say that I hope I'm not getting it wrong or offending people of color. Please try to forgive my well-meaning but potentially stupid or ignorant ramblings!
Other quotes I like:
I began to see that literature could reflect the otherness I was feeling, that the choices in fiction and poetry did not have to be bleached out of their color or simplified into either/or. A story could allow for the competing claims of different parts of ourselves and where we came from. Julia Álvarez. p. 147
For starters, I think I'd hate white people if it wasn't for Hollywood. This is not to say that I haven't hated some white people, and sure, the entire race, on occasion. But how can you hate someone you're on such intimate terms with--on screen and off? Rubén Martínez. p.248
That brings up what is to me one of the most heartbreaking features of the dominant white culture--the difficulty for minority and oppressed majority people to see themselves reflected back in movies, books, television, textbooks, etc.
Well, this review sure got long. While I got a lot out of this anthology, it wasn't as much to my liking as it could have been. Perhaps that's to some extent generational, since few of the writers are GenX or younger. A few of them write about their biracial children, rather than about their own experience, which is less interesting to me. I still recommend the book, though.
Todd Beardsley (not verified)
Mon, 01/26/2009 - 6:29pm
The quotes from the books
The quotes from the books that you mentioned have gained my interest. I'll have to check them out. It is always important to see things from all aspects and these books seem to help demonstrate that.