I love the Internet.
Nearly three years ago, Scott asked me what my favorite book was, and after acknowledging my appreciation for reference books such as the World Almanac and the Joel Whitburn Billboard books, I noted my affection for The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip.
Here’s the Library Journal account of the book, as published on Amazon:
In Haizlip’s dramatic account of her search for her mother’s multiracial family, race is less a matter of genetic endowment than of social and psychological perceptions. Her mother and her mother’s siblings could all pass for white; Haizlip recounts their differing choices with considerable narrative force. The life-long consequences of these decisions, combined with vivid details of her family’s success in claiming position and power in a race-conscious society, and above all, the emotional pain caused by the conflicting perceptions of race, give this account an almost novelistic quality. We learn of Haizlip’s numerous prominent positions in public service and the media. In the final analysis, Haizlip raises the issue of identity itself–who is black and who is white? How do we know, and what does it mean? Highly recommended for all Americans desiring to come to terms with who we are.
– Marie L. Lally, Alabama Sch . of Mathematics & Science, Mobile
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
So, I check my e-mail Friday, and who should be writing me but Shirlee Taylor Haizlip! She thanked me for my kudos of her work, and noted that HBO had optioned her three books, for which she is currently working on the screenplay. Then she pointed out this YouTube piece running a (5 minute) interview she did when the book came out.
I watched this and I was reminded that in some fundamental way, race is as complicated in America now as it was 40 years ago when my mother, who is a black woman fair of skin, told this story. She and my father went to a business meeting in San Francisco. Well, OK, the men did, and the wives did other things. At some point, the women were talking about various subjects. The topic segued to race, and the civil rights movement – my mother didn’t bring it there – and one of the women asked, “What do you think, Trudy?” She said, “Well, being a black woman…” Apparently, that was a bit of a shock to the system of her compatriots. But knowing my mother, this was no “gotcha!” moment, but merely an honest response.
I should note that my mother, at that time, was rather fond of wearing a red wig, and it was coiffed but not in an “Afrocentric” way. In the right setting, my mother could have passed, but like Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, she had no interest in doing so.
Coincidentally, or probably not, I ran into my friend Mary Liz Stewart at the CVS on Saturday. She and her husband Paul do the Underground Railroad workshops in Albany, and she noted that a woman named Viola Haizlip had help arrange their table at the African American Family Day event this coming Saturday (August 2) at the Empire State Plaza; I’m working the table from noon to 2 pm, though the event runs until 7 pm. Haizlip is not that common a name, and Shirlee confirmed that her husband Harold has family in the Albany area.
In any case, I’ll need to seek out Harold and Shirlee’s book In the Garden of Our Dreams.