Sil Lai Abrams Blooms in Blackness

Sil Lai Abrams Blooms in Blackness

Los Angeles Review of Books

Brooke Obie

Sil Lai Abrams, Black Lotus: A Woman’s Search for Racial Identity (New York: Gallery Books, 2016)

SIL LAI ABRAMS HAD HER SUSPICIONS about her race as a very young child. Her brown skin was much darker and her hair much curlier than her fair-skinned, straight-haired younger sister and brother. When she would walk down the street with her Chinese mother and White father, her White neighbors would stare and whisper.

“Your skin is brown because you were born in Hawaii,” her father would tell her anytime she asked, assuring her of her legitimacy as his own White child. It became her retort when she was met with “porch monkey” and other racist slurs by children at her majority-White school: “I’m Hawaiian!” she assured them, not Black.

The same father who raised her in Whiteness would strip her of that safety net of privilege when she was 14 years old. After Sil Lai laughs at racist jokes with her younger sister May Lai, one of which is how to “stop a nigger from jumping on the bed” — par for the course in her Seminole County, Florida, neighborhood — her father came into the room, appearing disgusted, only to say, “I don’t know why you’re laughing, Sil Lai. You’re one.”…

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