If you do not know who Nella Larsen is, you need to stop here and Google her. Then come back.
Welcome back. Let’s continue.
Torches, this book is incredible. I cannot recommend it enough. The irony, this book was 91 years ago this past April. This book, written by this Black woman, will be 100 years April 2029. In truth, I have been at war with reading and finishing this book. I have never been a position to ‘pass’–I was always Black, no doubt about that! Yet, I am the mother of biracial daughters–whom (if times were as they once were, and we are fighting not to return to!) they could pass. Especially my oldest daughter.
In this book, it is a demonstration on just how racism cripples and robs Black people, especially those who can pass. The book focuses on two young Black women–whom both know they are Black–one choose to pass (Claire) and the other chooses not to (Irene). In a reconnection between Irene and Claire at a coffee shop in Chicago, leads Irene to understand what Claire has given up to become what her husband (whom is a racist!) thinks she is: a White woman.
The one thing that is so powerful about this story is how Claire tries to hold on to both worlds–but she can’t. I was outdone when her husband, the racist now, called her a ‘Nig’ to her face in a room FULL of women whom were passing! The insidious nature of racism–it is certain of everything but ignoring the reality of what it is in front of them. This book serves as a reminder that racism as seductive as it is, not matter what it offers, it will still leave you lacking and half of yourself! To the point that you are unrecognizable–to yourself!
I feel bad for Claire, and then I didn’t feel bad for Claire. I wonder exactly why people in her position ‘stay’ and why some ‘never leave’? For every fictious Claire, there is a REAL Fredi Washington, and the mother in WHITE LIKE HER.
Toni Morrison talked about how powerful home is, and how it is a draw to go back to it. Can I blame Claire for leaving home? No. Not at all. Do I blame her for wanting to go back home? No. I hate the world that made her choose between power and safety–when she had neither.