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Wallace Thurman's brilliantly sly novel The Blacker the Berry is about skin color, blackness, and the color bias of "golden browns," "mulattos," "high yallers," and "nearly whites" against the "dark browns," "blue-blacks," and "Hottentots."
This is the tragic tale of Emma Lou Brown, a very dark sister whose indigo complexion gives her endless grief and humiliation at the hands of her lighter-complected family. Emma Lou's relatives "couldn't stomach" black people. After years of being the darkest spot of color in her near-white black family, Emma escapes to Harlem, hoping to fit in or at least to disappear. "More acutely than ever before Emma Lou began to feel that her luscious black complexion was somewhat of a liability, and that her marked color variation from the other people in her environment was a curse. Not that she minded being black, being a Negro necessitated having a colored skin, but she did mind being too black.... Why had her mother married a black man? Surely there had been some eligible brown-skin men around."
The Blacker the Berry is clever, beautifully written, sharp, and searing. Emma is every black woman who has ever been told to wear a hat for fear of getting any darker, who has cursed her African features, or who has been told to choose a lighter mate to lighten her offspring. Every line, word, and phrase in Thurman's bitter masterpiece is pure truth; therein lies its power.