Jun 15 2020

Book: The Blacker The Berry

As I begin to work my way through the NY Times Antiracist Reading List (by Ibram X. Kendi), I thought I’d start with The Blacker The Berry by Wallace Thurman.

I started with the Wikipedia page for Wallace Thurman.

Langston Hughes described Thurman as “…a strangely brilliant black boy, who had read everything and whose critical mind could find something wrong with everything he read.” Thurman’s dark skin color attracted comment, including negative reactions from both black and white Americans. He used such colorism in his writings, attacking the black community’s preference for its lighter-skinned members

I didn’t know the phrase colorism nor had I ever thought about bias around it. Over the weekend, Lucy Sanders pointed me at an NCWIT article on Colorism Bias in the Tech Industry. I then went down a rabbit hole on colorism, which caused me to realize how oblivious and ignorant I was to this type of discrimination.

Emma Lou Morgan, the protagonist of The Blacker The Berry, geographically follows Thurman’s life, from Boise, the USC, to Harlem. The book is beautifully written and deeply engrossing as Emma’s story unfolds. Some of it is a coming of age story, but also a continual struggle, from a Black woman’s perspective, on dealing with discrimination from all sides, since she is darkly colored and subject to endless colorism.

The book was written in 1929. It was Thurman’s first novel. Per Wikipedia:

The novel is now recognized as a groundbreaking work of fiction because of its focus on intra-racial prejudice and colorism within the black community, where lighter skin has historically been favored.

Thurman died in 1934 at age 32 of tuberculosis. He only wrote two other books: Infants of the Spring and The Interne. I just purchased Infants of the Spring but couldn’t find The Interne.

Next up – Rodney Sampson’s Kingonomics: Twelve Innovative Currencies for Transforming Your Business and Life Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.