Race, Gender and Reflections

The novel Everything I Never Told You is a must read. It is deeply thought-provoking, engulfing the reader in the Lee family’s world. Each character is a complex portrait of a person coming to terms with their past through the lens of grief. Ng is an exceptional writer, and the whole book emphasizes how the tiniest – seemingly insignificant – events in life are those that yield the biggest impact. This is especially true when battling issues on gender roles, discrimination, and the BIPOC community’s experiences.

The microaggressions or the subtle remarks and actions we hear play a significant role in how we internalize our identity. For instance, Doris’ cookbook, something Marylin grew up hearing her mom cite, reads that all wives should know their husband’s preferred style of egg. This is a subtle reference to traditional gender roles: the woman cooks to win her man’s heart, and that is one of her main roles. Marylin growing up with such old-fashioned beliefs led her to believe that all Chinese people in America speak with a heavy accent. Racist stereotypes are very prominent in her town, which only speaks to the problem of raising children under such an environment. Marylin realizes James does not have an accent and someone else yells “Yippee-ki-yay-ay!” only showcases this attitude.

Ng narrates the problems the Lee family faces; racism, sexism, and a continuous struggle to belong in a world that alienates them. They are the only mixed-race family in their small town, and the reader gets to learn not only about their collective struggle to belong, but also each individual member of the family’s experiences with prejudice.

I found it particularly interesting how traditional femininity and prejudice was progressively rejected throughout the three family generations. Doris tells Marylin that she might want to think of her future children because they “won’t fit in anywhere.” She outright says this with no hint of embarrassment; this is just how she regrettably thinks. Marylin first grows out of this mindset, feeling shame when she instinctively thought the doctor was a man and the lady treating her wound at the hospital, and she slowly starts to think progressively. She rejoices when Lydia hides the cookbook and tells her she lost it. Marylin thinks it is a sign that her daughter will reject traditional femininity. In short, Marylin is affected by sexism throughout the book, James by racism, and the kids by their parent’s history

This book is a must read for all of us, both members of the BIPOC community and non-members. We can all relate to some extent to the Lee family’s struggle. We can all educate ourselves more and learn from the character’s experiences.

Written by: Monica Alfaro

Book Club Assistant

A Girl Like Me

Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Brown felt very much like reading a young girl’s diary. This riveting experience transported me into a phase I had long forgotten I went through. I admire how Brown takes us through Skyy’s maturation process: losing friends, finding self-love, sibling rivalry, and encountering first love. Brown narrates it as a series of poems that we can all relate to, especially young Black girls.

Skyy’s story begins with her being portrayed as a quiet, reserved girl who lives to avoid confrontation and be the side character to her best friend, Lay Li. However, this changes when Lay Li gets a boyfriend and stops talking to her. She no longer knows who she is, how she is supposed to act, or what she should do. The only place where she feels like she can be her loud and big self is on the basketball court. 

She realizes that Lay Li and her may have been destined for different paths since the start of their friendship. As she notes, Lay Li always shone brightly like a sun, and Skyy was hidden under her shadow. Now that she is no longer under that shadow, Skyy gets a chance to shine and be her sun, finding her true self and embarking on the journey toward self-love. Chlorine Sky is told in the confines of Skyy and Lay Li’s friendship. Still, it also touches on subjects like how women are treated in modern society, familial relationships and dynamics, and finding your place within society. 

“So when Tyrone pushed me into the closet last year

& Coach Willie let him

I realized a girl’s mouth is a weapon

I realized the game is fixed”

Excerpt From: Mahogany L. Browne. “Chlorine Sky”. Apple Books. Pg124

Chlorine Sky raises the issue all girls have to realize, almost as a rite of passage: we are treated differently than men, especially if you are a woman of color. This story is told through the eyes of Skyy, a young girl, making it more personal. We got to see many of these cathartic moments on the basketball court how she is belittled for being a girl despite her evident talent. She went from trying not to stand out to being her sun.

Written by: Monica Alfaro

Book Club Assistant

She Ate This

After a whole year of the pandemic and virtual life, you would think we’d have worked out all the technical kinks by now! Alas, our meeting last Thursday began with some glitches but once we got talking, the conversation was high-speed 5G quality! This time around, instead of reading beforehand, we encouraged members to focus on the inspiring source for this month’s book: Lauryn HIll’s iconic, award-winning album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Before delving into Joan Morgan’s She Begat This, we decided pre-gaming for the reading was really the best way to go. Most people have heard the highlights of the album on throwback radio stations and in 90s classic hip hop contexts, but we felt it was important to have everyone experience the album as a whole, in its intended form of consumption. For an album considered one of the best of all time, not only in hip hop but in music in general, it deserves a fine-tuned ear. So the homework for last Thursday’s session was to listen to Hill’s album in full (at least once, though many of us found ourselves listening on repeat for hours). Our conversation moved quickly from favorite song to analysis of the album title, since we found we each had a lot to say and only an hour to do so. There were quite a few key moments in the call that proved extremely insightful. 

Using a Tidal article to steer the conversation, I wanted to keep us focused on how and why this album was so impactful in the history of hip hop. I was really impressed with the connections that were made linking specific lyrics and songs to the broader scope of hip hop at the time and it’s evolution to now.

We not only talked about the album in the context of 90s music, but as a predecessor of the neo-soul movement of recent years. Hill’s practice of “obvious, transparent, and tangible storytelling” in this album has become something artists across genres strive to perfect; and Hill is the “Black Girl Genius” behind it. With a mix of soul, reggae, and hip hop roots, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is a prime example of well-rounded music; it has what you want and need out of hip hop when it comes to catchy beats, intelligent lyrics, and extraordinary features.

Her first as an independent artist, this album “seamlessly paired singing and rapping to create bangers that were equally mainstream acceptable”. It also paved the way for religious rappers to come and served as an early model for the incorporation of interludes. The message behind the album’s title and the stories told through each song is unlearning what society has taught you to believe you need to be to become who you and Him deem worthy. Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is dense with power and meaning that I am personally very excited to see unpacked in Joan Morgan’s book, She Begat This.

We’ll be returning to this conversation in a few weeks, after reading Morgan’s take. Her book is just about 150 pages; a quick, but interesting read. Join us on March 25th for the second session in this cycle of Books & Booze. Hope to see you there!

21st Century Love

We definitely started off the year right! If you missed our first B&B meeting of the year, here is your chance to catch up. We have been reading The Right Swipe by the amazing Alisha Rai. This is the first book in her Modern Love Series, and we have fallen in love. 

We were hesitant to read a romance novel; afraid we would be walking a fine line between mushy love stories and overwhelming descriptive details. However, reading the first few pages, we couldn’t have found a book more relatable to romance and dating  in the 21st century. Alisha Rai did not disappoint, she definitely wrote this with us in mind. 

The conversations between the characters echoed the ones we’ve had and still have with our own friends. The reading was easy, incredibly funny and most effortless; making it difficult to put down the book and return to real life. 

Rai creates a world where there are no limitations to being black or any person of color and strong driven women run the world. It was reassuring to know that we didn’t have to think about racism or how to imagine the characters. They were never described as “pretty for a…”(you know what comes next), they were just people, beautiful people in their own right; with nothing and no one to compare or equate them to. At the same time, Rai promotes female empowerment and the ideas of being A Boss Ass B*&%h.

Our heroine Rhiannon doesn’t apologize, nor allows anything to come between her and her success. She’s the owner of a top dating app company and is holding her own in a predominantly male lead industry. She’s flawed, has insecurities and finds it hard to trust in love; but she is confident, supportive and surrounds herself with similar energy. Rhiannon takes charge of her sex and dating life and doesn’t allow it to be dictated by unsolicited dick pics or the the masters of ghosting; whom her love interest Samson is accused of.

“Theirs was a tale as old as, well, as old as a right swipe meaning you liked someone. They’d swiped, matched, met, fucked. Leaving out the part where he snuck under your defenses and then ghosted you, I see. She never thought she’d see him again, let alone here. working for the company she wanted to buy? Fate you bitch.”

Excerpt from Alisha Rai: The Right Swipe Page 10

Samson seems to be the perfect guy who is just looking for love and to be loved. He may have some skeletons in his closet, but right now we have all fallen for him…except for Rhi.

We’ve loved what we have been reading so far in this novel. The representation and relatable characters and events are a huge plus. Rhiannon is someone we’ve all meant or have been a point in our lives and Samson is someone we all hope to meet. We can’t forget the special scenes.

For me personally, I appreciated how descriptive and not overwhelming the juicy sex scenes were. She didn’t just scratch off the subject of imitate love, we got to sniff a little too.

If you already finished The Right Swipe Let us know what you thought. Or take some time to read the 2nd novel in the Modern Love Series Girl Gone Viral.

A Comedic Take on White Guilt

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid felt very much like a commentary on white liberals’ attempt to  please and appease the few black people around them; mainly due to their white guilt. However none of this is new to us – black people. A lot of it so far has been very predictable and expected. It’s a comedy based on the truth we have to face and live in everyday. With each page, the  laughter came with pain and vice versa. 

The story starts off with Emira Tucker responding to an emergency to aid the white family she babysits for in an upscale part of Philadelphia. She finds herself in the local grocery store where she is accused of kidnapping the child she babysits. She’s questioned and judged by both security and a local shopper who refuses to believe that she has any connection to the child. After going back and forth with both individuals and fearing for herself, Emira calls Briar’s father and is only permitted to leave after he arrives. The incident of course is recorded by the self identified very “woke” male named Kelley Copeland. 

From what we’ve read as a book club, the novel brings up complicated questions about race, prejudice  and social class. Our hope is that the book was written for white people to see how insincere, ludicrous and senseless they sound at times; Written for them to reflect on their behaviors. 

“There were moments like this that Alix tried to breeze over, but they got stuck somewhere between her heart and ears. She knew Emira had gone to college. She knew Emira had majored in English. But sometimes, after seeing her paused songs with titles like “Dope Bitch” and “Y’all Already Know,” and then hearing her use words like connoisseur, Alix was filled with feelings that went from confused and highly impressed to low and guilty in response to her first reaction. There was no reason for Emira to be unfamiliar with this word. And there was no reason for Alix to be impressed. Alix completely knew these things, but only when she reminded herself to stop thinking them in the first place.”

Excerpt From: Kiley Reid. “Such a Fun Age.” Page 127-128.

This shows some self reflection for Alix, but her implicit or unconscious bias hinders her from making such assumptions. In a way it mirrors the mindsets and attitudes of a large population of white people, who limit the potential of other races based on their preconceived prejudice and stereotypes. Someone’s background, lifestyle or simply their taste in music does not make them less than nor does it indicate that they lack knowledge.

The novel is packed with characters and storylines that we related to so well! It is very honest and real, giving a glimpse of what it is like to be  Black in America.

Some of the topics Discussed

  • “If we were in NY this wouldn’t happen”- Comparing how life was for them back in NY as opposed to Where they are now in Philadelphia. As if blavk people as a whole feel differently about racism in different parts of the country. It appears that maybe they lived in a predominantly white area where no one was or would have been affected by their ignorance towards race.  
  • Guilt Alix felt after the grocery store incident- This resulted in Alix finally taking the time to get to know Emira. Evaluating her lifestyle and the people around her. 
  • The old lady at the grocery store leaving after causing damage- this action is very common. Even though she realized at the end of the situation that she was wrong, she left as if she didn’t take part in causing the issue. 

The Found Half

We had our second session for The Vanishing Half. We were sad to see it go but loved that we got to FINALLY have the sisters meet!!

Yes, Stella and Desiree finally meet as the climax of the novel. And I will say it was anti-climatic. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You see, sometimes it’s the nuanced, smaller moments that make a scene versus large, boisterous ones. All Desiree says when she sees Stella for the first time after 20+ years is, “oh.” After some angry words, the sisters finally embrace and they spend some time together. Then as quickly as she came, Stella left to go back to her life. This is the perfect way for the sisters to have come together (and come undone again). What else did you expect from the scene?

The moment that stuck out to us the most was when Adele Vignes slips into dementia and refers to Desiree as Stella. It brings together the theme of the sisters being one half of the same person or even just the same person in totality. When she cannot remember who Desiree is but only remembers Stella, it is extremely heartbreaking. But it is also the moment in the novel where the readers realize how they truly are one being, tethered regardless of Stella’s attempts. I thought it was so touching and was happy Bennett ended the novel in this way. 

To backtrack, we are finally introduced to Stella in this half. We learn that she did in fact marry a nice, rich, white man. And she did in fact birth a “white” daughter. We also learn that Stella is lying to everyone in her life. It is clearly taxing on her…so she takes it out on her Black neighbors. Strange, yes, but necessary? She is trying her very best to act white by putting on her racist hat; so much so it embarasses her husband. We as a group believed she definitely could have pretended to be white without going overboard but…I guess that’s Stella’s way. 

Thankfully, we are introduced to more Black women, including the lovely Loretta. She is a refreshing character and we are sad they only appear for a brief time. I was desperately hoping there would be a scene where Loretta tells Stella she knew she was Black the whole time, but it never comes. I felt bad her character was used as a plot device instead of being more flushed out. But it comes with the territory. I love her, though! 

Kennedy’s character introduced a new aspect of what Blackness really means. We get a taste of it with Kennedy learning the truth about her race. But that opened a real dialogue for what Blackness cam mean for someone who does not “look Black”. Can Kennedy be Black if she walked through her entire life “looking white” and benefitting from whiteness? Can she be Black if she never interacted with Black people and has no connection to her Blackness? We don’t really know the answers to those questions, as they can only be answered by someone in her position. We can all agree that white-passing people do in-fact benefit from white privilege and should recognize that. But what they do with their Blackness is up to them. The one-drop rule is extremely outdated so maybe they wouldn’t consider themselves Black at all. It is a bit frustrating that we learn more about Kenneduy’s struggle with Blackness more than Jude’s struggle with existing in a racist and colorist society. But that’s just us…

Ok, now on to Jude and Reese!! It is revealed that the lovely pair are still together as Jude is in medical school. We also learn that Reese finally gets his top surgery and is loving his new bod. We are more than happy for them and am glad they did in fact get the happy ending dark skinned Black women and trans people barely receive. Refreshing, to say the least. We still never got a real reference to how dark Jude was. And we still didn’t appreciate the constant attacks made to her dark skin throughout the novel. It felt slightly unresolved–the only time we get some sort of mention of dark skin being “ok” is Reese calling Jude beautiful. But a woman should not be respected only after a man deems her respectable. And dark skin should not be validated only when someone who wants to have sex with the owner does the validating. So this is a definite downside of this novel. 

We were not expecting the novel to end on Jude and Reese. No matter how much we love the two of them, we were expecting the novel to end the way it began, in talking about the twins. Let us know in the comments how you thought it was going to end! Let us know how you liked the ending!

So Many Topics, So Little Time

This past Thursday, we had our first session for Brit Bennett’s novel, The Vanishing Half. This has been a highly anticipated first session, as the beautifully colorful cover graced all of Bookstagram for weeks. With some new members joining us this week (thanks, y’all), we dove right in! Spoilers ahead! 

First things first, we were all a bit thrown off by those first few pages. We all knew this book was about colorism in some capacity but were not expecting to be slapped in the face with it by the end of the first page. The first character we’re introduced to calling a child “blueblack” right off the gate was a bit jarring and left us all thinking, “what kind of book is this?” But we settled into the writing and realized it’s all with purpose.

The writing is so subtle and carefully crafted. We as the reader are left to interpret things ourselves and make sense of what’s in front of us without her spelling anything out. We all really enjoyed this aspect of her writing. As well as how easy it is to read! Real page turner!!

… 

Bennett creates Mallard, Louisiana: a town where everyone is Black, but no one fails the brown paper bag test by design of the town founder. This town is host to a community of light skinned Black people who are marrying lighter and whiter in order to increase their proximity to whiteness and perpetuate racist ideals of what Blackness truly means. Interestingly (and horrifically) enough, Bennett based Mallard on a real-life town her mom had told her about. It’s hard to believe such a thing could exist. But if you’re a Black person, you’ll know truly how sinister colorism can be.

Colorism is a plague in the Black community, plain and simple. It is a product of whit supremacy that seeped it’s way into the community and causes hierarchical thinking and interfighting. Sadly, lighter skinned people get treated with more respect and are awarded certain dignities that darker skinned people do not have. And it’s particularly cruel for dark skinned women. 

… 

The Vignes are described to have “creamy skin, hazel eyes, wavy hair” (which lead us to fancast Zendaya as one or both twins–we would love to see this story as a mini series). Many of us know Black people, who very much so identify as Black, who fit this description very well. So it’s interesting how we’re led to believe Stella is able to integrate into white society so flawlessly. We’re so excited to see how she does this. If whiteness is achievable through acting, what does whiteness really mean?

We spoke briefly about how we thought it was unfortunate that Desiree (who chooses to remain Black) gets treated so poorly in her life. After marrying a dark skinned man, she endures domestic abuse and eventually runs away with her child. It seems like this is exactly what her town warned her of, the dangers of mixing with dark skinned people. Although things are looking up for her back home, it feels almost unfair that she gets the worst outcome after not abandoning the race like her sister has. However, we expect that Stella too will face hardship living as a white woman. Which leads to one of Bennett’s themes: whiteness as a performance. It won’t be external like Desiree but a painfully slow internal struggle with her identity. We’re excited to see how it unfolds, especially after the cliff hanger where we assume Stella and Jude cross paths.

Overwhelmingly, we LOVE Jude and her story so far. Once we switch to her perspective, we gain even more insight into what it’s like to live in Mallard from the perspective of an outsider. Someone who doesn’t fit the ideal image of a Black person, let alone a Black girl/woman. Her interactions with Reese where he has to constantly reassure her about her beauty, as refreshing and cute as they were, hit a little close to home. Especially after we learn about her run-ins with a local Mallard boy who has sex with her in a dark barn because he cannot stand being with Jude in public.

“‘Stop that.’ … ‘Stop what?’ he said. ‘Looking at me like that.’ ‘But I like looking at you.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because,’ he said, ‘you’re nice to look at.’ She scoffed, turning back to the window. … ‘I hate when you do that,’ he said. ‘What?’ ‘Act like I’m lying.’ he said.”

Jude and Reese — (Bennett, 133)

This part, as simple as it is, encapsulates the feeling Black girls have when they utterly doubt their own beauty due to misogynoir and, even more specifically, colorism. Many of us shared stories of this happening to us while others described how they are teaching young Black girls in their lives to love themselves and embrace their beauty. Not despite their skin, but because of it. 

One thing that was pointed out was the lack of other explicitly stated dark skinned characters. Excluding her father, Jude is the only person we have characterization for that is dark skinned. For a novel that centers a lot of the dialogue around what skin shade someone is, we’re left wondering if Jude will be the only one. Was this purposeful, to mimic the way she feels alone in her skin tone throughout her life? Personally, it would be a disappointment if we never came across another dark skinned character. Looking forward to seeing if it happens!

We all found Bennett’s introduction of Reese well-written. Most of the trans stories written by cisgendered people include great tragedy or include a gruesome retelling of their transition. However, Reese’s story was written with respect trans people are not granted in storytelling, never misgendering him or spending a great deal of time pre-transition. We especially appreciated the scenes where Jude is learning about binding and how it affects Reese and their sex life. These scenes felt very natural and were written without making Jude tranbsphobic and having her unlearn for the sake of storytelling. 

On that note, both Jude and Reese are loved fully and out loud. As of where we’re at right now, they are both given the love story they deserve. The love story dark skinned women are often not permitted. The love story trans people are often not permitted. No tragedy, no friends trying to convince them out of it, no violence (both marginalized groups face extreme rates of violence from their partners). A story where they truly get to be two young adults in love who grow and evolve together. I loved this aspect the most about this novel and hope it continues without great loss for either of them. 

All in all, love the book so far. Can’t wait for the introduction of Stella and how the two worlds collide for the climax of the story. Hats off to Bennett for doing her research. And thank you for reading!

Christine and the Sapphire Team

Women are Everything!

Chat Chaser from B&B Session 1 on 6/25


We had our first book club meeting last Thursday; did you miss it?  If you don’t already know, we have been reading In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  With Mamajuanas in hand, we had an amazing discussion about the Mirabal sisters and the importance of female heroines. 

The story of heroic Butterflies (Las Mariposas) takes place in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo’s violent regime repressed the Domician people and drove them with fear. Women were restricted to the role of housewives and had limited opportunities in academia. However, nothing was impossible for the brave Mariposas! Minerva, Patria, Mate and Dedé fought for not just their families, but for their entire country. 

Alvarez did an amazing job retelling their stories from so many different perspectives; capturing their emotions and all the intricacies of real women in this novel. As well as showing the importance of fatherhood and the upbringing of children. For the Marabel sisters, especially Minerva, she realized very early on that as a woman she would be limited and felt caged in.

Sometimes, watching the rabbits in their pens, I’d think, I’m no different from you, poor things. One time, I opened a cage to set a half-grown doe free. I even gave her a slap to get her going.But she wouldn’t budge! She was used to her little pen. I kept slapping her, harder each time, until she started whimpering like a scared child. I was the one hurting her, insisting she be free.Silly bunny, I thought. You’re nothing at all like me.

– Minerva In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

This in a way foreshadowed what we realized to be the state of the entire country. 

Although brave and selfless, we feared for her life as her interactions with Trujillo kept her and her family in harm’s way. As readers we waited and anticipated Trujillo’s retaliation to come much sooner than it did. His delay showed testament to the idea that women do in fact harbor the same strength and intelligence as men… if not more. In short: women are everything!

…. To be Continued after Session 2 on July 16th

Looking Forward to seeing you there!

Gigi & the Sapphire Team

Books & Booze 6/25 Meeting!

In the Time of the Butterflies

Hey, Sapphires! This Thursday is the first meeting for In the Time of the Butterflies and the first content meeting for Books & Booze! We are so excited to talk about the first two sections of the book with you!

Our first meeting will go over our first impressions of the book, brief characterization of the sisters (thus far), and any thoughts/comments you may have on the book! While you don’t have to have read the entire first two sections to participate in the meeting, you may come across some spoilers! You have been warned!!

We can’t wait to see you all there!

Christine and the Team

Awareness and Remembrance

We are exhausted. We are hurt, angry, in awe, and exhausted. Blackness continues to be a crime in America. No matter what we do, our existence and the value of our lives has been debated. How much longer?

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked a new wave of consciousness in the public concerning the unjust and systematic attack on Black lives by the police. However, these are not unprecedented times. We are just now able to see it across the globe due to the rise of social media. 

We’ve seen the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement unfold on social media, starting after the murder of Trayvon Martin. The internet has been our tool for spreading awareness, garnering support, and furthering education and social justice. Please continue to use the internet for this very reason. 

We also ask for Black people to step away from the internet when it becomes overwhelming. Take care of your mental health when you can, this is extremely traumatic. 

In combination with the Covid-19 pandemic, this time feels paralyzing. But you have the power to help. Donate when you can. Protest when you can (don’t forget a mask). Actively seek those who need help and assist. It feels like we are drowning but we promise you, we can and will survive. 

We must also remember the intersections of Blackness–not forgetting Black womxn in our cries, specifically our Black trans siblings who are often completely excluded from the narrative. 

We must not allow ourselves to forget what we’re feeling right now. In two weeks, Black lives will still matter. In two months, Black lives will still matter. In two years, Black lives will STILL matter. Black lives will always matter and have always mattered. And injustice will continue to perpetuate the longer it takes for this to become cardinal. 

And if you can, please take the time to educate yourself of Black history! This google drive has a great collection of readings to help you learn about the history of Black people in America. 

Rest in Power, those who we have lost. Shall we never forget your names.

With Truth,

Christine and the Sapphire Team