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Evelyn C. Fortson

African American Author of Women's Fiction


I just finished reading Wallace Thurman’s novel, “The Blacker The Berry,” and was astonished at how deeply the book affected me. The book is an unapologetic portrayal of colorism in Black culture. Colorism is not a problem solely found within the African American race; it is prevalent in every race. I was initially drawn to the book because of its title. I had heard the saying, “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” when I was a girl. The saying was said to defend the blackness of the speaker’s skin. But when I heard it, it resonated and made me proud to be as dark as I was. That saying was embedded into my psyche that day and would arise when people or the media told me otherwise.

Growing up in America, where Eurocentric standards of beauty are promoted in magazines, books, and on TV, obviously skewed how I saw myself. Not only was my concept of what was beautiful distorted, but negative values were also placed on racial features and color. That was my experience growing up in the 1960s and 70s. 1967 was the first year that the big toy companies made Black dolls, and that was the first Christmas I received a Black baby doll. As a little girl, I didn’t care much for them, maybe because they never looked like me. So, when I received my first Black one, I was seven years old, and I don’t remember playing with it. I think that doll meant more to my mother than to me. She knew I wasn’t a girlie girl, but I think she bought the doll for me as a way of fighting back. She was telling me without uttering a word that I, too, was beautiful, valued, and loved.

In the book “The Blacker The Berry,” the protagonist laments that her life would have been easier if she was a boy because dark skin was more acceptable on boys. The book was first published in 1929, and by 1934, the author would be dead. Wallace Henry Thurman's life was short. He only had thirty-two years on this earth, and it is a wonder to me that at such a young age, he could write a book so full of pain.

Ninety-four years later, this book is still relatable. Colorism, the by-product of racism, would not exist if not for the need of one race to exalt itself over another did not exist. I hope in the next ninety-four years, colorism will have become an ineffective weapon. That it no longer divides us. I hope that we will be able to look in the mirror and no longer need to look like someone other than ourselves.

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We are the survivors of wars, hunting parties, the middle passage, and over two hundred years of slavery. The United States of America was dedicated to God on April 30, 1789, while engaged in the stealing and selling of African people. After George Washington’s inauguration at Federal Hall in New York, he and newly elected government officials walked to St. Paul’s Chapel, where Washington dedicated America to God. The country entered a covenant that would bless and protect it if its people kept God’s statutes and commandments. Abraham Lincoln thought the bloodshed of the country’s own people in the Civil War, not slavery, broke that covenant. It is from that perspective that we were taught history in school.

We, the children of slaves, have lost our languages and true identities. Even as we have become a new people, Africans by blood and Americans by culture and the location of our birth, we are counted as the lost. The reexamination of America’s history has taught me to view it through a personal lens, not from someone else's point of view. I now understand why I feel like an interloper in a country my people helped build and whose roots can be traced to the 1700s.

The red clay soil and the Red River Parish of Louisiana, where my people were enslaved, conjure images of cotton fields and wooden houses with porch swings and screen doors that squeak when opened and bang when shut. Louisiana, even with its history of inhumane cruelty, speaks to my soul. Perhaps I’m drawn to it because my ancestors sleeps there, many in unmarked graves. Most of their stories may never be told, but we, the lost tribes of Africa, have a collective history. Reading slave narratives, books about slavery, or African Civilization allowed me to imagine what my ancestors went through during slavery and who they were before. I see myself in the accounts of their lives and understand some of the psychological issues we face today because of the lies we were told about ourselves, and the trauma inflicted during slavery and after. Our history has to be specifically sought after and curated to undo the damage caused by the racially biased education we received as children. We have to look deeper than the water-downed versions told in schools.

We may be counted as The Lost, but we don’t have to remain there. Genealogy research and DNA testing allow us to find out what countries our ancestors came from. History books written by African and African-American scholars tell us who we were. We have to become proactive in teaching our children about our history. My adult son and I often suggest books for each other to read, and we engage in lengthy discussions regarding everything from religion to cultural appropriation.

I’m convinced that by learning the truth, we will find our way home, whether it is in the United States, the Caribbean, or Africa.

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Please don’t wait, give me my flowers now so I can appreciate them. Tell me how much you love and are proud of me while the words can uplift. Please don’t wait until I can no longer hear or feel your words of encouragement. Eulogize me while I yet live; leave nothing unsaid between us.

I require my flowers now because I cannot take them to the afterlife. Like all living things, humans need to be fed to thrive. Self-affirmations are great but cannot compare to the earnest words of someone you love and respect.

Think of that woman that you call Sis and speak a word over her to help her rise from the ashes of her mistakes. Help her face one more battle, one more struggle until the war ends.

Give her her flowers today and see how they will refresh, revive, and restore her soul. Watch her shoulders relax and her breathing ease, if just for a few moments. Let her bask in the warmth of knowing someone knows how hard she is fighting to make it in this world.

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