A Woman Who Looks White
The woman on the TV talk show looks white, is confident, unerring, and unashamed of herself; but the audience doesn't believe she is black, not the blacks or the whites, and they are all angry that she has dyed her hair blond. They accuse her of dating whites, though she says, and I believe, that she has never dated whites. Here attitude is tough: "I know I'm black, and I don't care what you think of me." She is definitely not sucking up to any of them.
The blacks and the whites are allied in their hatred. Perhaps the whites are mad because they don't want to think that anyone who looks as white as they do could be black. They don't want the lines to be fuzzy. If somebody who could be one of them doesn't want to be, maybe being white isn't as great as they thought. And many blacks have worked hard not to want to be that woman. The irritant might creep under the door. Some of us, without thinking, may still refer to her "good" hair.
Several young men at an all-black college recently told me that in their dreams they saw themselves as colorless or white. Sometimes a sin in thought, even if uncommitted, is just as stinking. When we look at her we remember that somebody made somebody else feel like shit and then preferred the world that way.
If she had been white, her self-possession under attack may have been admirable. But for a black woman--and a light-skinned black woman at that, who should at least be sorry for her color--to be so imperturbable, to have gotten away with her own self-worth . . . well, it seemed totally wrong, as if she had gotten away with murder.
She shows photographs of relatives from several generations back, all of whom look like the most middle-class people from Iowa--men in business suits, educators, lawyers, doctors, ministers, and women with fluffy soft hair and a sense of security in their eyes. It is as if the family built a city around her heart which had protected her from what we are all supposed to suffer, as if she hadn't yet heard the news.
The Black Notebooks
The Black Notebooks
Toi Derricote's books include The Empress of the Death House, Natural Birth, Captivity, and Tender, winner of the 1998 Patterson Poetry prize, and a memoir, The Black Notebooks. The Black Notebooks was a recipient of the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association of Nonfiction Award, and was nominated for the PEN Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She is Co-Founder of Cave Canem, the historic first workshop/retreat for African American poets.