Friday, November 16, 2007

One Drop

I wish that I had Mia's faith. Earlier this week while we were cuddling and watching TV, she told me that she needed to pray. Here's her prayer. God, thank you for this earth we live on. Thank you for the sun that shines and the moon at night so we can see. Thank you for the stars that shine at night so I don't have to be afraid. Thank you for our noses so we can breathe and our lips so we can talk. Thank you for my Pokemon and Pikachu. Amen. Every now and then she would lean in to me and ask what else she should say, but I didn't want to put words in her mouth, so this prayer was whole-heartedly hers. Telling Jesse about it that night brought tears to my eyes. This morning after I picked her up from school she asked me if we would have any snow this weekend. I said no; the newcasts had big graphics reading "No Snow for Hunting!" so I felt pretty safe in my assertion. She wanted how we could make it snow, so offhandedly, I told her to pray. She immediately closed her eyes, clasped her hands, and dropped her head. God, please make it snow. Amen. Five minutes later, just before we turn off of the highway, I suddenly saw flakes come rushing down from the sky. "Look Mia, God answered your prayer; it's snowing!" She smiled until her eyes disappeared and assumed her prayer posture again. God, I KNEW you would make it snow. I KNEW you heard my prayer. Thank you! Amen. She doesn't know any formulas for prayer; she hasn't read books on it, and yet her innocent prayers are perfect. And the snow on the ground outside attests to their power.

One Drop by Bliss Broyard is the story of her father Anatole Broyard's passing as a white man. Bliss and her brother Todd were raised in uber-WASPy Connecticut with no idea as to their father's ancestry until he was on his death bed, and their mother forced the confession out of him. While Todd accepts the knowledge without much difficulty, Bliss is sent into a tailspin trying to figure out just how black she is and how she fits into the world around her because of it. Anatole, a daily book critic for the New York Times, is a powerful character: charismatic, suave, opinionated, and full of life. Bliss thought she knew him better than anyone, but the news of his secret makes her question everything she's ever known about him. The book is the culmination of sixteen years of research and genealogy to understand her father and both of his worlds: the one he turned his back on and the one he embraced. Bliss tells her story with surprising honesty and little guile. She relays stories of her own inherent racism with both surprise and sadness. As a high-schooler, Bliss had occasionally dropped the n-bomb and told racist jokes with her friends. Now with the news that she is black makes her confront her lingering prejudices. Bliss' research into her family's past is fantastic. She intersperses the stories of the Broyards with history putting the choices they made into contemporary context and giving depth to each character. Anatole's family was Creole in New Orleans, but his father fled with the onset of the devastating Jim Crow laws. His father, who had been a popular, powerful man in his neighborhood in New Orleans, was just another face in Brooklyn, and never recovered from the loss of community. Anatole's parents passed as white in order to keep jobs during the Depression, and he suffered for it. They lived in a black neighborhood where he was chased and beaten by boys with lighter skin. The anger from these incidents haunted Anatole until his death. He was hurt by his father's silence on the matter and determined to never let his children suffer like that. But Bliss does suffer, through rejection by her darker skinned cousins who never had the opportunity to pass, and through trying to figure out what box to check on forms: black or white? Anatole also suffers in that he seems to have made a Faustian bargain: he turned his back on his family and race and in return was never able to write with authenticity in the way he desired. His novel would never be finished. This is a fantastic book: easily read, great story, and eye-opening ideas. Bliss establishes the differences between Creole blacks and those who were slaves. While there is obvious racism between whites and blacks, less obvious is that of lighter skinned toward darker skinned blacks. Bliss never attacks her father for his choice, nor does she attack those who are angry with his choices. She presents the story of her father as a way for her to understand him better and in doing so offers the world the chance to question what does race really mean?

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