[Book Review] black and (A)broad
black and (A)broad
traveling beyond the limitations of identity
306pp, paperback,15 euros
Growing up in a poor neighbourhood of Toledo, Ohio, Carolyn Vines was certainly no stranger to racism. As she writes in her mid-life memoir black and (A)broad:
"How many times had my mother informed me: "Carolyn, you're poor, Black, and a girl," she'd say, slamming the fist of one hand into the palm of her other hand as she said those last three words. "You've got three strikes against you right off the bat," she'd add, just in case I didn't get it the first ten times. I suppose that had been her way of preparing me for the world as she had been taught to see it."
With those words echoing in her head, Vines begins a lifelong journey to find and define herself; in the ensuing years, she eventually comes to examine every facet of her identity including race, gender, nationality and her roles as wife, mother, daughter and sister.
Fast forward to Vines arriving in the Netherlands to live with her Dutch boyfriend (and future husband). Highly educated, Fluent in Spanish and well on her way to a PhD, she is unsure how she will be treated as a foreigner, a black, a woman. "It's Holland, Carolyn, not America," he tells her. Little does she know that his response will come to encompass her entire experience.
Vines sets out to make the Netherlands her home: learning the language, struggling to find rewarding employment, marrying her soul mate, settling down in small-town suburbia and eventually raising two daughters. She deftly chronicles how moving abroad illuminated discernible differences between Dutch and American culture, particularly with regard to race.
Struggling to deal with long-held perceptions of her own identity while adjusting to life in her new country, Vines must confront her painful past. Only in looking back is she able to come to terms with the suffering and tragedy of her childhood, struggles to establish herself in academia, the agonising loss of a stillborn child, and the belief that any chink in the armor of her infallibility as a strong black female was unacceptable. In time, Vines comes to realise:
"I gave myself permission to continue to shape my life around the new identity I was forging that would focus on where my life was going rather than the tragedies of my childhood."
With these words, Vines signals the vast distance between her previous life and the happy, healthy life she carves out in the Netherlands. Alternating between the comic and the heart-wrenching, black and (A)broad is a poignant account of how moving outside her cultural homeland offered one woman the perspective necessary to re-evaluate all aspects of identity.