Roger O’Green here. It’s not just because my last name is Green, and my middle initial is O, that I’ve always related to St. Patrick’s Day. It’s the Irish potato famine story of the 1840s that brought so many Irish to the United States which has always resonated with me. Indeed, it was a black man and and Irishwoman whose marriage in the 1870s formed the foundation of one of my favorite books, The Sweeter the Juice.
More to the point, there is a daguerreotype of a woman, some ancestor of my maternal grandmother, who we believe to be Irish, still in my mother’s possession. So when I’m doing the wearin’ of the green, I come by it (faintly) naturally.
I was walking past a bar/restaurant in Albany yesterday and there was a handwritten sign describing a “corn beef and cabbage” dinner. Oh, where is that guy Jeff Deck when I really need him? He would have corrected the sign to “corned beef”.
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. ROG
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