Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The Meltingpot Book Review -- I'm Down by Mishna Wolff
From the jacket copy: "Mishna Wolff grew up in a poor Black neighborhood with her single father...Unfortunately, Mishna didn't quite fit in with the neighborhood kids: she couldn't dance, she couldn't sing, she couldn't double Dutch, and she was the worst player on her all-Black basketball team. She was shy and uncool... And yet when she was suddenly sent to a rich White school, she found she was too 'Black' to fit in..."
Doesn't this premise sound like a familiar story of many popular memoirs of Black kids growing up and feeling alienated in their Black surroundings because of their quest for an education and their just plain "un-coolness?" Starting with Black Ice, Project Girl, White Bucks and Black Eyed Peas, I could rattle off a dozen of such stories, so what makes Mishna Wolf's I'm Down different? Wolff isn't Black. She's a pure bred White girl.
"I am White. My parents, both white. My sister had the same mother and father as me --all of us completely white. White Americans of European ancestry. White, white, white, white, white..."
And so begins Wolff's hysterical yet poignant memoir of growing up with a White father who truly seemed to want to not just BE Black, but wanted himself and his daughters to be accepted as authentic in their urban, Black neighborhood in Seattle.
I admit I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I feared Wolff might just resort to relating "funny" anecdotes of her father and herself trying on gross stereotypes of Black behavior. But she doesn't. Instead she describes a very peculiar childhood, one that is often sad and dysfunctional, that strangely enough seems to hinge on a father who probably should have been seeking professional help for his delusional and sometimes dangerous behavior. That being the case, Wolff clearly has a talent for seeing the absurd in her past and tells her story with a comic's talent. Even while I was feeling sorry for the little girl who ached to fit in, I was laughing my ass off at the same time.
I'm Down is a great summer read. I read it one day (Granted, I was recovering from wisdom teeth surgery and had an excuse to stay in bed all day). You'll really enjoy the story and you'll come away with yet another example of why this thing we call race, these definitions of Black and White, are only skin deep.
I look forward to more work from Mishna Wolff.