The best part of Bliss Broyard’s book is her description of the dying Louisiana Creole culture and ethnic identity. Even Bliss realizes that the Creoles are not “black” or “African American,” but she is not consistent in separating the two identities, often using the word “black” when she should say “Creole.” Of course, her miseducation in forced hypodescent and the “one drop” theory by her newly discovered black-identified Broyard relatives had a lot to do with that. Creoles have been subjected to what one might a call a “documentary genocide” (to use the phrase coined by Brent Kennedy, author of The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People : An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America). Since the Jim Crow period, both whites and blacks in Louisiana have worked to destroy the unique Creole ethnicity and forcibly assimilate them into the “Negro/black/African American” fold by simply refusing to recognize Creoles as anything but “Negroes.” The Creole relatives Bliss encounters are thus divided into those who identify with the “white race” and those who believe all Creoles are part of the “black race.” Bliss, as a liberal, sensitive white girl, tends to automatically give more credibility to the “black” side of the family, even when common sense should tell her that they have only internalized an inferiority complex that makes them think they are unworthy of being anything but “black.” Some great books on this documentary genocide are: White by Definition: Social Classification in Creole Louisiana by Virginia R. Dominguez, Passing for Who You Really Are by A.D. Powell and Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise And Triumph of the One-drop Rule by Frank W. Sweet.
Bliss disappointed me greatly by seeming to buy into the old canard that there is something immoral about a person with even a small amount of “black” ancestry identifying himself as “white.” Hello, Bliss. Have you heard of Latinos and Arabs? They are almost always partially of sub-Saharan African ancestry but don’t call themselves “black.” Most of them identify as “white” on the census and other forms. You lived in New York City, which has more “mulattoes” than New Orleans. However, because they are also Puerto Ricans, their “black blood” doesn’t count? Why?
Many reviewers in the media have painted Anatole Broyard as a villain who deprived his children of some kind of wonderful heritage. I side with Anatole. First, he was not “black” and he would have been guilty of emotional abuse if he had taught his children to embrace a false racial identity invented as a stigma. A few say that he should have taught them about their wonderful Creole heritage. Why? It is a dying ethnicity and its people are being assimilated by force into the “black” fold. Creoles either go as “black” or “white.” The few remaining Creoles who seek an in-between path are dying out and have no political power. I also noted, from reading the book, that Bliss is a very emotional, impressionable person. She was too full of liberal guilt and easily enamoured of anything “black.” I shudder to think how she would have reacted as a teenager or child. Her brother Todd seems to be far more stable. There is no evidence that the great revelation that his father was “tarbrushed” caused him to change his identity or indulge in racial angst.
Bliss inadvertently proved her father innocent of an infamous canard invented by the notorious “one drop rule” advocate Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Gates had falsely accused Broyard of “abandoning” a supposedly “black” Puerto Rican wife and daughter in order to encourage others to hate him. Bliss interviewed the first Mrs. Broyard, Aida Sanchez, and found out that not only was Aida proudly white-identified, she considered Anatole and her in-laws to be white as well. Aida chose to leave Anatole because he refused to get a regular job and preferred to hang out at his bookstore with his intellectual friends. She took their daughter, Gala, and moved to Texas. Needless to say, Texas was a Jim Crow state at the time and Aida and her daughter identified as white. It is strange that Bliss has gone out of her way to track down and publicize distant black-identified Creole cousins but NEVER mentions her half-sister. Obviously, Gala is white-identified and that does not fit into the new “black” agenda of her half-sister Bliss.
There is a scene in the book where Alexandra Broyard (the supposedly “pure white” Norwegian-American mother of Bliss and Todd) discovers that she has partial Native American ancestry. It is interesting to her, but she has no plans to change her identity or even check more “race” boxes on those omnipresent forms. She is like most white Americans in that regard, since American Indian ancestry is not presented as a source of genetic inferiority that destroys forever one’s European heritage or right to call oneself “white.” Shouldn’t “black” ancestry in white people be decriminalized and treated like American Indian ancestry?