Dark secrets: The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, reviewed

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-07-27 00:46Z by Steven

Dark secrets: The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, reviewed

The Spectator
2020-07-18

Rabeea Saleem


Brit Bennett. Credit: Getty Images

Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half, A Novel (New York: Riverhead Books, 2020)

Bennett’s compelling novel explores the fraught subject of what it means to ‘pass for white’ in a black community

Passé Blanc is the Creole expression — widely used in the US — for black people ‘passing for white’ to seek social and economic privileges otherwise denied them. Brit Bennett has a panoptic approach to racial passing in this intergenerational family saga, which takes us on a 20-year journey into the lives of twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes.

We meet them in the 1950s as children living in Mallard, a small town in the Deep South known for its light-skinned negroes. For Desiree, the local obsession with skin colour makes little sense, since being light-skinned didn’t save her father from being lynched by white men. In their teens, the twins run away to New Orleans, but their paths soon diverge: ‘Stella became white and Desiree married the darkest man she could find.’

Fourteen years later Desiree is spotted back in Mallard with a ‘blueblack’ child in tow called Jude. She is an anomaly in a town where ‘nobody married dark’, adhering to the strict colour code of its mixed-race founder, who was determined that the town would see ‘each generation lighter than the one before’. Stella, meanwhile, remains estranged from her family and now lives a life of luxury with her white husband and their daughter Kennedy in an affluent, all-white neighbourhood in LA. She has kept her past a secret from them, with her daughter realising how Stella would cite lack of money as an excuse not to discuss her background — ‘as if poverty were so unthinkable to Kennedy that it could explain everything’. Eventually, Jude’s and Kennedy’s paths cross, dismantling Stella’s carefully constructed façade…

Read the entire review here.

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Brit Bennett’s New Novel Explores the Power and Performance of Race

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-06-26 03:17Z by Steven

Brit Bennett’s New Novel Explores the Power and Performance of Race

The New York Times
2020-05-26

Parul Sehgal, Book Critic

Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half, A Novel (New York: Riverhead Books, 2020)

No nation can lay lasting claim to a genre, save perhaps one. The story of racial passing is a uniquely and intensely American form. From its earliest avatars, the 19th-century novel “Clotel,” for example, to Langston Hughes’s short stories and Nella Larsen’s 1929 masterpiece, “Passing,” to the melodrama films of the 1950s, like “Pinky” and “Imitation of Life,” it is a story central to the American imagination, re-examined and retold so regularly it seems to enjoy a perpetual heyday.

In recent years, passing narratives have shed their sentimentality and turned surreal (Boots Riley’s film “Sorry to Bother You”), comic (Spike Lee’sBlacKkKlansman”) and playful (Mat Johnson’s novel “Loving Day”). Others have flipped the formula so that it is black identity that is coveted by characters who are racially ambiguous (in the fiction of Danzy Senna, for example) or plainly white (as in Nell Zink’s novel “Mislaid”).

Through all the ways the genre has been rewritten, its potency has remained — its singular ability to enact the notion of race as arbitrary, as a performance, as something seen through, all the while inscribing its power as a source of kinship, pain and pride. Certainly few transgressions are punished so severely in literature. To pass is to court moral ruin; it is an elective orphanhood (in “Imitation of Life,” passing results in actual matricide), depicted as a kind of amputation or suicide.

In her new novel, “The Vanishing Half,” Brit Bennett brings to the form a new set of provocative questions: What if passing goes unpunished? What if the character is never truly found out? What if she doesn’t die or repent? What then?…

Read the entire book review here.

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Brit Bennett Reimagines the Literature of Passing

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2020-06-23 19:49Z by Steven

Brit Bennett Reimagines the Literature of Passing

The New Yorker
2020-06-15

Sarah Resnick


Photograph by Miranda Barnes for The New Yorker

In her second novel, the author uses a familiar genre to explore startling visions of selfhood.

In “The Vanishing Half,” the story of two sisters divided by the color line yields new models of identity and authenticity.

In 1954, a pair of identical twins—creamy skin, hazel eyes, wavy hair—flee a small town in Louisiana and the narrow future it affords: nothing but more of the same. Desiree and Stella Vignes are sixteen and headed to New Orleans. They scrape by for a while, and eventually Stella applies for a position as a secretary at a fancy department store, a job only white girls get. She doesn’t mention she’s black, and no one asks. She’s apprehensive—has she done something wrong?—but her sister is adamant: why should the two of them starve “when Stella, perfectly capable of typing, became unfit as soon as anyone learned that she was colored?” Stella gets the job. Every morning, on the ride to the office, she transforms into her double, Miss Vignes—“White Stella,” as Desiree calls her—and every night she undergoes the process in reverse. It’s “a performance where there could be no audience. Only a person who knew her real identity would appreciate her acting, and nobody at work could ever know.” For a while, the twins are brought together by the joint pleasure of pulling off the performance. But gradually the gap between them widens: “Desiree could never meet Miss Vignes. Stella could only be her when Desiree was not around.” One day, Stella disappears, leaving her sister a note: “Sorry honey, but I’ve got to go my own way.”

The Vanishing Half” (Riverhead), the second novel by Brit Bennett, tells the story of the Vignes sisters’ diverging paths. In doing so, it belongs to a long tradition of literature about racial passing. From the antebellum period until the end of Jim Crow, countless black Americans crossed the color line to pass as white—to escape slavery or threats of racial violence, or to gain access to the social, political, and economic benefits conferred by whiteness. Narratives that dramatized this passage became a fixture of popular fiction, written by black and white, male and female authors alike. Charles W. Chesnutt, James Weldon Johnson, and Nella Larsen wrote about it, as did William Dean Howells and Kate Chopin. “Imitation of Life,” the 1933 novel by Fannie Hurst, was twice made into a movie (in 1934, by John M. Stahl, and in 1959, by Douglas Sirk). These stories repeat some version of a generic arc: the “tragic mulatto,” often a woman, chooses to leave home and pass for white; in time, anguished by the betrayal of her black identity, she returns to her family, only to be met with a harsh fate—sometimes death…

Read the entire article here.

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The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction

Posted in Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2020-06-23 17:36Z by Steven

The Accident of Color: A Story of Race in Reconstruction

W. W. Norton
2020-06-18
336 pages
6.4 x 9.6 in
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-24744-2
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-393-53172-5

Daniel Brook

A technicolor history of the first civil rights movement and its collapse into black and white.

In The Accident of Color, Daniel Brook journeys to nineteenth-century New Orleans and Charleston and introduces us to cosmopolitan residents who elude the racial categories the rest of America takes for granted. Before the Civil War, these free, openly mixed-race urbanites enjoyed some rights of citizenship and the privileges of wealth and social status. But after Emancipation, as former slaves move to assert their rights, the black-white binary that rules the rest of the nation begins to intrude. During Reconstruction, a movement arises as mixed-race elites make common cause with the formerly enslaved and allies at the fringes of whiteness in a bid to achieve political and social equality for all.

In some areas, this coalition proved remarkably successful. Activists peacefully integrated the streetcars of Charleston and New Orleans for decades and, for a time, even the New Orleans public schools and the University of South Carolina were educating students of all backgrounds side by side. Tragically, the achievements of this movement were ultimately swept away by a violent political backlash and expunged from the history books, culminating in the Jim Crow laws that would legalize segregation for a half century and usher in the binary racial regime that rules us to this day.

The Accident of Color revisits a crucial inflection point in American history. By returning to the birth of our nation’s singularly narrow racial system, which was forged in the crucible of opposition to civil rights, Brook illuminates the origins of the racial lies we live by.

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The Vanishing Half, A Novel

Posted in Books, Louisiana, Media Archive, Novels, Passing, United States, Women on 2020-06-14 00:55Z by Steven

The Vanishing Half, A Novel

Riverhead Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
2020-06-02
352 Pages
6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 9780525536291
Paperback ISBN: 9780593286104
Ebook ISBN: 9780525536970

Brit Bennett

From The New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

As with her New York Times-bestselling debut The Mothers, Brit Bennett offers an engrossing page-turner about family and relationships that is immersive and provocative, compassionate and wise.

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Creole Son: An Adoptive Mother Untangles Nature and Nurture

Posted in Autobiography, Biography, Books, Family/Parenting, Identity Development/Psychology, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science, United States on 2020-03-06 20:47Z by Steven

Creole Son: An Adoptive Mother Untangles Nature and Nurture

LSU Press
March 2020
216 pages
5.50 x 8.50 inches / 6 halftones
Paperback ISBN: 9780807173107

E. Kay Trimberger, Professor Emerita of Women’s and Gender Studies
Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California

Introduction by:

Andrew Solomon, Professor of Clinical Psychology
Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York

Creole Son is the compelling memoir of a single white mother searching to understand why her adopted biracial son grew from a happy child into a troubled young adult who struggled with addiction for decades. The answers, E. Kay Trimberger finds, lie in both nature and nurture.

When five-­day-­old Marco is flown from Louisiana to California and placed in Trimberger’s arms, she assumes her values and example will be the determining influences upon her new son’s life. Twenty-­six years later, when she helps him make contact with his Cajun and Creole biological relatives, she discovers that many of his cognitive and psychological strengths and difficulties mirror theirs. Using her training as a sociologist, Trimberger explores behavioral genetics research on adoptive families. To her relief as well as distress, she learns that both biological heritage and the environment—and their interaction—shape adult outcomes.

Trimberger shares deeply personal reflections about raising Marco in Berkeley in the 1980s and 1990s, with its easy access to drugs and a culture that condoned their use. She examines her own ignorance about substance abuse, and also a failed experiment in an alternative family lifestyle. In an afterword, Marc Trimberger contributes his perspective, noting a better understanding of his life journey gained through his mother’s research.

By telling her story, Trimberger provides knowledge and support to all parents—biological and adoptive—with troubled offspring. She ends by suggesting a new adoption model, one that creates an extended, integrated family of both biological and adoptive kin.

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City of Alexandria unveils marker to Louisiana’s first African-American governor

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Videos on 2020-02-27 03:09Z by Steven

City of Alexandria unveils marker to Louisiana’s first African-American governor

KALB-TV News Channel 5
Alexandria, Louisiana
2020-02-25

ALEXANDRIA, La. (City of Alexandria) – Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey W. Hall joined local historic preservation supporters Tuesday afternoon in the Alexander Fulton Mini Park downtown to unveil a historical marker in honor of P.B.S. Pinchback, Louisiana’s first African-American governor.

“It is fitting that we honor P.B.S. Pinchback, the first African-American Governor of Louisiana, during Black History Month,” Hall said. “Gov. Pinchback was a significant force in Louisiana politics during Reconstruction following the Civil War. And he traveled to Alexandria for meetings during his brief time as governor.”


Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey W. Hall (left) and local historian Michael Wynne unveil a historical marker in honor of P.B.S. Pinchback, Louisiana’s first African-American governor Tuesday afternoon. The marker, located in the Alexander Fulton Mini Park in downtown Alexandria, is the first one erected as part of the City of Alexandria’s new historical marker program designed to recognize historical events and people associated with Alexandria.

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was born in 1837 in Georgia to a white father, who was a planter, and a black mother who was a former slave. While he could have tried to pass for white, Pinchback embraced his African-American roots. During the Civil War and after the fall of New Orleans, Pinchback recruited the first set of African-American volunteer soldiers for the Union Army in Louisiana known as the 1st Louisiana Native Guards, and he served as its first Captain…

Read the entire story here.

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Overlooked No More: Homer Plessy, Who Sat on a Train and Stood Up for Civil Rights

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2020-02-05 02:24Z by Steven

Overlooked No More: Homer Plessy, Who Sat on a Train and Stood Up for Civil Rights

The New York Times
2020-01-31

Glenn Rifkin


A mural in New Orleans shows what Homer Plessy, right, might have looked like. On the left is P.B.S. Pinchback, the first black man to serve as a governor in the United States, in Louisiana. Pinchback is often mistaken for Plessy.
Mural by Ian Wilkinson; Photo by Jane Morse Rifkin

He boarded a whites-only train car in New Orleans with the hope of getting the attention of the Supreme Court. But it would be a long time before he got justice.

Since 1851, many remarkable black men and women did not receive obituaries in The New York Times. This month, with Overlooked, we’re adding their stories to our archives.

When Homer Plessy boarded the East Louisiana Railway’s No. 8 train in New Orleans on June 7, 1892, he knew his journey to Covington, La., would be brief.

He also knew it could have historic implications.

Plessy was a racially mixed shoemaker who had agreed to take part in an act of civil disobedience orchestrated by a New Orleans civil rights organization.

On that hot, sticky afternoon he walked into the Press Street Depot, purchased a first-class ticket and took a seat in the whites-only car…

Read the entire article here.

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A Painter Resurrects Louisiana’s Vanished Creole Culture

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2020-01-22 01:19Z by Steven

A Painter Resurrects Louisiana’s Vanished Creole Culture

The New York Times
2020-01-16

Elizabeth Pochoda, Editor-in-Chief
The Magazine ANTIQUES


Andrew LaMar Hopkins portrays the significant role Creoles played in the civic life of New Orleans. “Edmond Dédé Piano Recital” (2019) shows the freeborn Creole musician and composer in his elegant salon. Andrew LaMar Hopkins

Andrew LaMar Hopkins celebrates the rich contributions of 19th-Century New Orleans in his folk art style (and drag).

NEW ORLEANS — Dressed as his alter ego, the modish matron Désirée Joséphine Duplantier, the artist Andrew LaMar Hopkins is a familiar presence on this city’s arts scene. His paintings, faux naïf renderings of 19th-century life in the city — particularly the vanished culture of New Orleans’s free Creoles of color — also keep good company. You can see these works in Nadine Blake’s gallery on Royal Street in the French Quarter, on the art-filled walls of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in Treme, and in the rooms of collectors like the designer Thomas Jayne and the food stylist Rick Ellis.

When a dozen of Mr. Hopkins’s paintings appear at the Winter Show at the Park Avenue Armory on Jan. 24 they will be making their first foray north. Placed alongside 18th- and 19th -century portrait miniatures in the booth of Elle Shushan near the entrance of the show, these small works portraying daily life in New Orleans, circa 1830, will enact their own sly magic, inserting themselves into the stream of art history as if the visual record of people and places in antebellum Creole culture had not been lost. “This is what these lives looked like, and no one else was doing it,” Mr. Hopkins, 42, says of both white Creoles and Creoles of color in his work. “I wanted to do them justice.”

Creole is a long-embattled term, perhaps best defined now as a person whose background and identity is traceable to colonial French Louisiana and/or its Franco-African culture. William Rudolph, the chief curator at the San Antonio Museum of Art and an early enthusiast about the work of Mr. Hopkins, says this artist “has used his work to interrogate Creole history.” He added, “He has deconstructed the past.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Genealogy & Racial Passing; Author Mary Doria Russell

Posted in Audio, Biography, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-11-12 20:47Z by Steven

Genealogy & Racial Passing; Author Mary Doria Russell

The Sound of Ideas
ideastream
Cleveland, Ohio
2019-11-11

Rachel Rood, Producer


Credit: MeganBrady/shutterstock

Parma native and award winning author, Gail Lukasik discovered in 1995 that her mother had kept a deep family secret from her. Her mother was half-black, but was passing as a white woman, and begged Gail not to reveal her true identity. Lukasik will be speaking about her family’s story, which she turned into a book in 2017, this week in Lakewood, and we’ll discuss the complicated waters of genealogy and race, on The Sound of Ideas. Later, Lyndhurst author, Mary Doria Russell, talks about her new historical novel: The Women of the Copper Country.

Listen to the episode (00:49:56) here.

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