The Autobiography of an Ex-White Woman: Bliss Broyard’s One Drop

The Autobiography of an Ex-White Woman: Bliss Broyard’s One Drop

Mother Jones

Debra J. Dickerson

Suddenly, white people are fascinated by race. Good for them. Good for all of us?

If you haven’t read Bliss Broyard’s One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets, you must. No matter how well you thought you understood, this book makes you realize just how relentlessly integral race is to American life and just how crucial it is to move beyond it. A complex book on a complex issue, it’s hard to know where to begin (good reviews here, here and here).

Here’s the easy part: One Drop is about having a semi-famous father who gave you all the insulated, WASPy pampering any white girl could want but who turns out, on his deathbed, to have in fact been black, then backtracking to figure out why and how he did so. And where that leaves you in a nation where boxes must be checked and sides must be taken. Only in America could a strained conversation in your dying father’s sickroom change your race. This just in: you’re black.

Pere Broyard, Anatole, was a New Orleans Creole, as it turned out, who helped create a post-war, bohemian-intellectual Manhattan where he and his friends “didn’t know where books stopped and they began.” But the world did. The only way for the cerebral, wavy-haired Negro to claim a place in that rarified atmosphere, seduce numberless white girls, or even get a decent job, was to stop being black. The price of doing so for two generations left Broyard a twisted soul, self-eliminated from family and culture, adrift in a world which existed mostly in the minds of the trendy Communist sympathizers and slumming trust-funders who fed on each other until it was time to marry and move to Connecticut. “Our tribe of four made us seem alternately special and forsaken,” Bliss writes, “the last survivors of a dying colony or the founding members of an exclusive club.”She and her brother had almost no interaction with either side of the family, so deeply ‘incognegro’ was Anatole. So were they black now? If they’re not, is it because it’s too late or because it’s too easy?…

…Still, these works do what America never will; participate in all the truth and reconciliation we’re ever going to have—piecemeal, caveated, hazy, statute of limitations-expired but more than blacks knew before. More than whites could bear to admit to before. Leave it to white narcissism to do for us what the urgings of conscience never will: put white perpetrators center stage. Now that it’s safe. Given that America won’t hold its breath until a black person goes digging for the ancestor who narc’d on Denmark Vesey, maybe blacks should cut whites some slack on their long overdue introspection. There’s no denying that blacks desperately want to know what the hell happened and how and only whites can tell us that…

Read the entire article here.

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