what i'm reading: the sweeter the juice by shirlee taylor haizlip

The Sweeter The Juice, by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, turns out to be a fascinating book. It languished on my to-read list for so long, I had forgotten what it was about.

Haizlip is a person of mixed ancestry - European, African and Native American - as tens of millions of Americans are, whether or not they know or acknowledge it. In a search for her ancestry, Haizlip discovers that members of her family had "passed" for white and "disappeared into the white world" - that is, disowned their darker-skinned relatives and denied that part of themselves and their heritage.

Haizlip shows this is much more common than most people realize. And, since it then follows that many Americans who classify themselves (and are treated by society) as white actually have some African ancestry, it calls into question the whole concept of race.

From the book jacket:
Shirlee grew to adulthood moving easily between the black world and the white, but with an unfulfilled dream of discovering what had become of her mother's family. As Margaret [the author's mother] approached eighty, her daughter determined to realize that dream. What she unearthed in dusty archives, letters, journals, and other records, is a tale of journeys - physical, emotional, racial and social - that continues even today. Across the boundaries of race and time, the story spans six generations of both sides of Shirlee's family . . . There, Shirlee tracked down her mother's only surviving sibling and reunited two sisters - one who called herself white and the other who called herself black - after seventy-six years. . . . The different choices the members of her multihued family made, and the different lives each of them led as a result, raises questions of identity and allegiance common to us all.
I'm interested in the idea of race as a social construct - an extremely powerful idea, but nothing more than an idea. In the years since I read about this book, I've researched and written about adopted people who search for their biological roots - why they do so, what they find, how it affects them. The Sweeter The Juice taps into those ideas, too. If you're interested in any of these things, I recommend it.

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