Even with an imposing writing deadline looming [I see you March 1st!], I am determined to make the time to read for fun. After all, reading sparked my love for writing, and is a consistent source of solace and inspiration. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I love nothing more than combing the shelves of discount book stores. Just this past weekend, I scored replacements at the Flea Mart for two Christopher Pike novels that I literally read to shreds . The Roommate can’t understand why I read the same books more than once, but I notice something new each time, and I love how the context changes as I read them in different stages of life. So with frugality and Black History Month in mind, this month’s nonprofit nerd re-reads came from my personal library:
One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life–A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard. I watched Ms. Broyard on the PBS program African American Lives 2 (hosted by the noted and famously allegedly racially profiled scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. ) and was fascinated by the story of her father Anatole Broyard’s life-long concealment of his multiracial heritage. The subject of “passing” has always been a sensitive one. In fact Dr. Gates wrote an article discussing Mr. Broyard’s decision to do so. However, this book, told from the viewpoint of a daughter reeling from the revelation, offers unique insight into the motivations of a man who wanted his writing judged on its merits and not by his race, something I can definitely identify with. In my own family, the pendulum swings from distant relatives whose descendants identify as white and have no inkling of their mixed-race ancestry to those who wholeheartedly embrace and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage. With such swiftly changing attitudes within just a few generations, it would be interesting to know what choice Mr. Broyard would have made today.
Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves by Sana Butler. As a student, the subject of Africans in bondage in America was most often taught in the same context, against the backdrop of the Civil War. Everything was broken down into simple, digestible chunks: The Civil War was fought to free the slaves, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, the slaves were free and everything was hunky-dory after that. It wasn’t until I went to college that I finally began to understand the awesome complexities of the “peculiar institution”, its global reach, and the inherent injustices that are still manifesting (although in different ways) in American society. Although former slaves’ narratives were extensively chronicled during the 1930s as those generations neared the end of their lives, Ms. Butler spent 10 years researching how those freed men and women lived, worked and raised their families, transforming from being oppressed to freedom-fighters.
IndiVisible: African-Native Lives in the Americas by Gabrielle Tayac. This is a companion book to the eponymous exhibition, a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of African-American History and Cultures and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. I was unable to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to see the exhibition, but one of my co-workers was generous enough to bring me a copy from her visit. To see the intertwined histories of Africans and American Indians rendered in print and powerful images was particularly poignant. There is ongoing controversy surrounding who can legally affiliate themselves with certain American Indian tribes, as both the Seminole and Cherokee Nations (for varying reasons) have attempted to deprive descendants of free African-Indians and Africans enslaved by American-Indians (known collectively as Freedmen) of their tribal rights which were acquired via various treaties with the United States government. It will be a long time before such issues are resolved legally, but more must be done to mend the mistrust and dissension these issues have raised among African-American and American Indian communities. This book and exhibition were a good start, highlighting the similarities of these cultures rather than the differences.