Monday, February 21, 2011
A New Book About 'Passing' -- The Invisible Line
Hi Meltingpot Readers,
About a month ago, I was contacted by TLC Book Tours to see if I'd like to review a new book about three American families who literally transformed themselves over the generations, from Black to White. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Introducing, The Invisible Line by Daniel J. Sharfstein.
Even though I promised myself I would only read fiction this year, I was not disappointed by this foray into nonfiction. The Invisible Line, while meticulously researched by Sharfstein -- an associate professor of law at Vanderbilt University -- reads like a great piece of historic fiction. The story begins like this:
"Gideon Gibson rode alone through the perpetual twilight of the woods on a Sunday. In the thick forests of the South Carolina backcountry, light hit the ground scattered and split, filtered through leaves and pine needles as through a cathedral's stained glass."
And it only gets better from there. Essentially, Sharfstein traces the paths of three families; the wealthy landowning Gibsons in South Carolina, the Spencers, farmers in Eastern Kentucky, and the Walls, a middle class Black family in pre-Civil War Washington DC who 'becomes White' by the dawn of the 20th century.
The stories of all three families are equally fascinating ( complete with pictures to help you imagine and understand the transformations) but even more compelling is the completely hypocritical and self-serving history of the concept of race and color in this country. Reading the stories of these three families and the context in which they chose to 'cross over' makes the injustices of race that much more infuriating as we come to understand just how fluid the color line really was/is. The author himself explains it this way, " ...the category of 'black' has always functioned as little more than a marker of discrimination. W.E.B. Du Bois said it best: black means the 'person who must ride Jim Crow' in Gerogia."
I think we all joke that every American has a Black branch somewhere in their family tree, but after reading The Invisible Line, it seems like we should be checking the roots and not just the branches of every "White" family in America.