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Summer Road-Tripping While Black

I always knew that the lazy days of summer were coming to an end when my family piled into our 1979 black Cadillac Eldorado with red leather interior and began a two-day journey from Morristown, N.J., to Hilton Head Island, S.C.

In the late 1970s, my father saw advertisements that touted the natural beauty of Hilton Head and he wanted to experience it. My parents decided our family would have a vacation — time for family bonding and memory making — just like other families. So, two weeks before Labor Day, my father hoisted a four-bike rack onto the top of the car and tucked our wooden tennis rackets into the dwindling pockets of space in the trunk.

Every road trip has a soundtrack, and ours was filled with R&B classics. My favorite song was Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 summer anthem, “Hot Fun in the Summertime.” It made me believe we were stealing time, flipping the calendar back to July. Those summer days. That’s when I had most of my fun.

I was too busy reading “Ramona the Brave” and guarding my space in the nonexistent middle seat between my two older sisters to notice that my father was growing more and more uncomfortable the farther south we drove. Once it got dark, the car fell silent. Before U.S. Highway 278 was completed in 1998, we had to follow a maze of two-lane country roads to get to Hilton Head.

The New York Times, August 31, 2018
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"I'm Not the Nanny: Multiracial Families and Colorism"

Allyson reviews the book, Same Families, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America's Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps, for the New York Times Book Review (November 3, 2016).

In Danzy Senna’s 1998 novel “Caucasia,” two sisters — Cole and Birdie — share a bond so intimate that they create a language only they can understand. Engulfed in the racial chaos of Boston in the mid-70s, the sisters nestle themselves away in the cozy world they have created in their attic bedroom. Their lives are forever changed when their mother, a liberal white New Englander, and their father, a black man with radical political leanings, decide to divorce. The sisters are divided: Birdie lives with her mother and essentially passes for white, while Cole, who looks black, moves in with her father and his black girlfriend. In a city as racially divided and explosive as Boston in the 1970s, this separation by skin color strikes the reader as a chillingly rational decision.

The New York Times, November 3, 2016
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Rachel Dolezal's Unintended Gift to America

In James Baldwin’s 1968 novel “Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone,” a child points to his light-skinned mother’s relationships to offer a compelling case that she is indisputably black:

“Our mama is almost white … but that don’t make her white. You got to be all white to be white …. You can tell she’s a colored woman because she’s married to a colored man, and she’s got two colored children. Now, you know ain’t no white lady going to do a thing like that.”

For the child in Baldwin’s novel, racial identity was determined by the life one chose to live and the relationships one chose to privilege.

Rachel A. Dolezal evidently believes that she should have the same choice as the light-skinned mother in Baldwin’s novel. Enmeshed in black politics, black communities and black experiences — she is raising two black sons — why should she see herself any other way?

nytimes.com, June 17, 2015
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Pay Tribute to the Black Women Who Spoke Out About the Sexual Violence

The complex history of Reconstruction is often overlooked or forgotten altogether. The particular plight of African-American women during this period has faded even farther into history’s margins.

Similar to their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, African-American women experienced political and economic terror. But these women also endured sexual violence at the hands of white men determined to restore the sexual codes of the slavery regime. When the federal government called for congressional hearings to investigate the Ku Klux Klan in 1871, hundreds of black women came forward.

nytimes.com, May 26, 2015
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