I have been hearing about “The Vanishing Half” for a while now. It was written by Brit Bennett and I have heard nothing but great things about it. In fact, it is going to be a film adaptation of it in the near future. It involves the subject of passing, which is when a black person’s skin color is light enough to look or “pass” for white. There’s another book which just came out on Netflix as a film called Passing and it involves that subject as well. Passing always intrigued me because it is crazy how someone who on first glance may look like a white person but when you actually stop and look, you can see the black features. On the flip side, when a white person poses as a black person, it’s called blackfishing (hello Rachel Dolezal).
This book tackles the subject of identity and how our choices in life, good or bad, can affect the rest of our lives in a positive or negative way. It also deals with the subject of colorism, which is a prejudice or discrimination against people with dark skin tones, usually among people of your own race or ethnic group (remember race is skin color and ethnicity is where you’re from, like Mexican, Puerto Rican, American, etc).
There are some famous black folks who passes for white: Pete Wentz from the band Fall Out Boy, singer Halsey, rapper Logic, actor Vin Diesel, and actor Wenworth Miller from the show Prison Break, actress Troian Bellisario from the show Pretty Little Liars. There’s lots more too but these are just some of the few who can pass for white.
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect? Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins
I was not ready for the wild ride I was on with this book. At first I was okay but then I started getting super anxious so I did that thing I always do with books, read the last chapter because I wanted to know how everything ended. Let me tell you, I was highly upset! I was done with the book when I read the ending. I was angry that it didn’t have the happy ending that I was expecting it to have! I put the book down and decided to read something else, but the next day I decided to pick it up again and actually read the rest of it.
In the book, Stella up and decided to live a white life, leaving her sister and mother behind while Desiree stayed and lived as a colored person, which is what they were. Stella legit had to keep up the lie her whole life and wanted no one to know her secret. I can’t go into how things eventually unfolds for her because that will be spoiling the book but just imagine that much weight someone had to carry on their shoulders. How much she had to do and put up with to not lose the life she chose to have! She couldn’t be her true self at all! That’s sad and exhausting.
Desiree left home with her sister but when her sister abandoned her, she found herself in DC, married and with a baby. Her hubby was a lawyer (and had very dark skin) who was abusive so she had to flee and return to her hometown, with her dark child in tow. Her life choices affected her and her daughter. So much so, that the town made her daughter leave when she was able to and not really want to ever return, unless of course she had to for certain circumstances. She also had to pick up the pieces of her mom who felt sad over her twin. It’s one thing to have a tight bond with a sibling, it’s on a whole nother level when it’s a twin. She was so hurt by her sister leaving her. They were pretty much dead to each other and not because of the choice of Desiree.
It took me a while to read and it wasn’t because it was a terrible book. On the contrary, I enjoyed it but it was hard to read. Allow me to explain. The Vinges girls came from a town called Mallard and it was a town full of light-skinned black folks or colored as they were called back then. They were prejudiced against black (or colored) people that were darker than them. For example, in the book, Desiree’s daughter Jude was treated horribly because she was black. Guys didn’t want to be seen with her and only gave her attention when it was dark. The kids called her names like darky, midnight, mudpie. They assumed she was adopted because her mom was “too pretty” to have a dark child like her. Hello colorism!
Her grandma tried to keep her out the sun and tried little remedies to lighten her skin to no avail. Which I get. I tried to make my skin lighter because I hated my dark skin (see this post). I sometimes still struggle with my skin color but not as bad as when I was younger. Growing up, no one saw her as beautiful or she wasn’t told. I mean again, her grandma tried to fix her by trying to lighten her skin. Those experience set her on the path of honest hard work.
Compared to her cousin, Kennedy, Jude was an angel. Kennedy was a spoiled brat who wanted to act and was just trying to find herself. She’s had everything handed to her and was rebellious. It’s kinda funny how each twin ended up with a daughter that reminded them of their long lost/forgotten sister. Kennedy reminded Stella of Desiree and Jude was low key like Stella! Crazy how life works out!
One thing about living your life as a lie, you had to keep up the lie. Eventually it eats you up on the inside. It’s amazing how this book shows us that it’s really up to us to live the life we want. We create who we are. It made me think of my own thoughts and beliefs and how I’ve changed over the years. For example, I am trying to distance myself from the girl I was at 18 or 21. I’ve grown but also, there are parts of me that cringes when I’m around a crowd full of black people. Me not being around many of them have made me anxious when I am around them. I will dive more into this in a later post, but this is a big reason why I was nearly in tears. It made me question who I was becoming!
Another thing that annoyed me was Stella. More so, how she treated black people. She was rude and nasty and it just didn’t make sense. She saw how her father died (lynching) and that white people did it, but when she chose to live her white life, she said some cruel things about black people, her very own people! The only thing that I can probably assume why was because she didn’t want her white friends and family to get the idea that she was black and that there was no way she can be because she didn’t like black people. That’s the only reasoning I can see for that. She felt bad every time she did it. Like why be nasty to people? She’d rather not leave any doubt to them that she was white.
I gave this book 4 stars! I highly recommend this!
If you could pass for another race, would you?