Donna Bailey Nurse: Addressing mixed race in literature

Donna Bailey Nurse: Addressing mixed race in literature

CBC Books

Donna Bailey Nurse

Throughout February and March, literary journalist, teacher and author Donna Bailey Nurse will be blogging for CBC Books about black Canadian writers and their important works. In her third post, she explores the complex subject of mixed race and how different authors address have addressed it.

I read a lot about race, and I write a lot about race. I also talk a lot about race—too much—as most of my friends, white and black, will tell you. But I can’t help it. The topic rivets me; I’m especially fascinated by contemporary issues of race; by how race plays out in our modern, everyday lives.

However, the historical angle preoccupies me as well: the eras of civil rights and of Jim Crow and slavery. In fact, I am just heading out to buy a copy of Rosemary Sadlier’s biography of Harriet Tubman. Tubman, an escaped slave, led more than 300 African American slaves to freedom. I’ve been thinking about her since I was a child. I still can’t figure out how she found the courage.

Every time I read about slavery I learn something new. Lately I’ve been obsessing over information in a book by Randall Keenan. Most of us know that during slavery many white masters—often married men—fathered children with their female slaves. As a rule, the disparity of power between masters and slaves defines their sexual encounters as rape. But Keenan explains how, on occasion, affectionate, enduring relationships developed. Some white men would send the children from these unions north to be educated; and some left wills that provided for the welfare of their black families. Naturally, their white wives were enraged and humiliated. They often contested these wills and in time legislation was enacted that made it illegal for a white man to leave property to his black mistress. However, just think: There was a historical moment when a handful of white masters were prepared to publicly acknowledge their black children—a fleeting opportunity for redemption…

Read the entire article here.

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