A memoir in essays about race that is as lucid as the issue is complicated.
Though Bernard (English and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies/Univ. of Vermont; Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black and White, 2012, etc.) is a scholar, her latest book is almost devoid of jargon. Instead, the writing is deeply felt, unflinchingly honest, and openly questioning. The author makes no claims to have all the answers about what it means to be a black woman from the South who has long lived and worked in the very white state of Vermont, where she might be the first black person that some of her students have encountered. From the evidence on display here, Bernard is a top-notch teacher who explores territory that many of her students might prefer to leave unexplored. She is married to a white professor of African-American Studies, and she ponders how his relationship with the students might be different than hers, how he is comfortable letting them call him by his first name while she ponders whether to adopt a more formal address. The couple also adopted twin daughters from Ethiopia, which gives all of them different perspectives on the African-American hyphenate. But it also illuminates a legacy of storytelling, from her mother and the Nashville where the author was raised and her grandparents’ Mississippi. “I could not leave the South behind. I still can’t,” she writes, and then elaborates on the relationship between blacks and whites there: “We were ensnared in the same historical drama. I was forged—mind and body—in the unending conversation between southern blacks and whites. I don’t hate the South. To despise it would be to despise myself.” The book’s genesis and opening is her life-threatening stabbing by a deranged white stranger, a seemingly random crime. Toward the end of the book, she realizes that “in every scar there is a story. The salve is the telling itself.”
A rare book of healing on multiple levels.