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Ever since renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard's own parents, New Orleans Creoles, had moved to Brooklyn and began to "pass" in order to get work, he had learned to conceal his racial identity. As he grew older and entered the ranks of the New York literary elite, he maintained the façade. Now his daughter Bliss tries to make sense of his choices and the impact of this revelation on her own life. She searches out the family she never knew in New York and New Orleans, and considers the profound consequences ...
Ever since renowned literary critic Anatole Broyard's own parents, New Orleans Creoles, had moved to Brooklyn and began to "pass" in order to get work, he had learned to conceal his racial identity. As he grew older and entered the ranks of the New York literary elite, he maintained the façade. Now his daughter Bliss tries to make sense of his choices and the impact of this revelation on her own life. She searches out the family she never knew in New York and New Orleans, and considers the profound consequences of racial identity. With unsparing candor and nuanced insight, Broyard chronicles her evolution from sheltered WASP to a woman of mixed race ancestry.
Posted October 5, 2007
The best part of Bliss Broyard's latest book is her description of the dying Louisiana Creole culture and ethnic identity. Even Bliss realizes that the Creoles are not 'black' or 'African American,' but she is not consistent in separating the two identities, often using the word 'black' when she should say 'Creole.' Of course, her miseducation in forced hypodescent and the 'one drop' theory by her newly discovered black-identified Broyard relatives had a lot to do with that. Creoles have been subjected to what one might a call a 'documentary genocide' 'to use the phrase coined by Brent Kennedy, author of The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People : An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America'. Since the Jim Crow period, both whites and blacks in Louisiana have worked to destroy the unique Creole ethnicity and forcibly assimilate them into the 'Negro/black/African American' fold by simply refusing to recognize Creoles as anything but 'Negroes.' The Creole relatives Bliss encounters are thus divided into those who identify with the 'white race' and those who believe all Creoles are part of the 'black race.' Bliss, as a liberal, sensitive white girl, tends to automatically give more credibility to the 'black' side of the family, even when common sense should tell her that have only internalized an inferiority complex that makes them think they are unworthy of being anything but 'black.' Some great books on this documentary genocide are: White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana by Virginia R. Dominguez and Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise And Triumph of the One-drop Rule by Frank W. Sweet. Bliss disappointed me greatly by seeming to buy into the old canard that there is something immoral about a person with even a small amount of 'black' ancestry identifying himself as 'white.' Hello, Bliss. Have you heard of Latinos and Arabs? They are almost always partially of sub-Saharan African ancestry but don't call themselves 'black.' Most of them identify as 'white' on the census and other forms. You live in New York City, which has more 'mulattoes' than New Orleans. However, because they are also Puerto Ricans, their 'black blood' doesn't count? Why? Many reviewers in the media have painted Anatole Broyard as a villain who deprived his children of some kind of wonderful heritage. I side with Anatole. First, he was not 'black' and he would have been guilty of emotional abuse if he had taught his children to embrace a false racial identity invented as a stigma. A few say that he should have taught them about their wonderful Creole heritage. Why? It is a dying ethnicity and its people are being assimilated by force into the 'black' fold. Creoles either go as 'black' or 'white.' The few remaining Creoles who seek an in-between path are dying out and have no political power. I also noted, from reading the book, that Bliss is a very emotional, impressionable person. She was too full of liberal guilt and easily enamoured of anything 'black' as a grown woman. I shudder to think how she would have reacted as a teenager or child. Her brother Todd seems to be far more stable. There is no evidence that the great revelation that his father was 'tarbrushed' caused him to change his identity or indulge in racial angst. There is a scene in the book where Alexandra Broyard 'the supposedly 'pure white' Norwegian-American mother of Bliss and Todd' discovers that she has partial Native American ancestry. It is interesting to her, but she has no plans to change her identity or even check more 'race' boxes on those omnipresent forms. She is like most white Americans in that regard, since American Indian ancestry is not presented as a source og genetic inferiority that destroys forever one's European heritage or right to call oneself 'white.' Shouldn't 'black' ancestry in white people be decriminalized and treated like American Indian ancestry?
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The book is very good if you ignore Bliss Broyard's editorial comments. Creoles are like Latinos, all of them are mixed-race but some are whiter and some are mulatto and some are blacker. We don't begrudge whiter Latinos the right to call themselves "white" without being accused of "passing for white." Creoles should be extended the same courtesy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2013
This is page-turning nonfiction. Broyard achieves an artful balance between sharing her personal journey and educating about the realities of life for light-skinned mixed-race Americans. She provides a wonderful history of the Creole population in New Orleans and the families that moved to other parts of America seeking new opportunities, often isolating themselves from their families and culture. She is honest and informative as she explores her own discoveries about race and family relationships. This is a very engaging book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 7, 2009
Ok I admit in parts this book is interesting, it is informative. However I cant finish it. It just doesnt grab you. Its more like wow really you can write on and on and on about oh I didnt know my father was black. I feel the book is a bit long!!! I got about a third of the way through it and now it sits. Maybe I will pick it back up but its been five solid months since I set it down so I'm not really thinking its gonna happen. But if you like long winded informative books with out a huge story line read it, you will be happy that you did.
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Posted February 2, 2009
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This book was engaging and interesting. Not only does Bliss "voyage" into her family's vast and varied geneological background, but she gives her readers a history lesson in the world of the Creoles. This is also a book about a man who, quite honestly, was "intellectually dishonest" with himself and his family -- living an image rather than a reality and the ramifications of such a lifestyle on his family and friends. <BR/><BR/>Bliss's writing is wonderful and the topic so very interesting. I'd highly recommend to all who wish to get a greater understanding of Creole, the African American experience and that of mixed-raced individuals.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.