This is a review of Bliss Broyard's book "One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life -- A Story of Race and Family Secrets."
As the subtitle suggests, the bulk of the book, and its most interesting parts, deal with the author's certifiably brilliant father, Anatole, a college poetry Professor, New York Times Critic, and a black man who spent the bulk of his life "passing for white."
In fact, it was suspicions that surfaced surrounding his death from prostrate cancer -- that there might have been Negro blood in the family tree -- that triggered the opening of the family's closet of racial secrets. This inquiry inevitably led to the eventual writing of this book by his daughter, a project that also allowed the author to come to terms with her complicated racial pedigree; and at the same time, allowed her to complete her own journey into self-discovery.
Through very high quality research, painstakingly carried out, she not only gives us the highlights, but also deep insight into the context and history of the family's secrets -- occasionally even touching on the subtext of highly charged racial meanings that have framed both her family's sometimes embarrassing history as well as America's own very scarred and scary racial history.
What this book reveals more than anything else is the long-standing fallout of the sensitivities and treachery of whites on the issue of race that began with the fear brought on by the slave revolts that bracketed the French-Indian War, taking place in the mid 18th Century. Their epicenter was St. Domingues (present day Haiti).
In the face of the slave revolts, that lit up the Caribbean like a Roman candle, France could no longer carry the heavy financial burden of maintaining and defending its colonial Empire in the New World. As a result, it punted to get itself out of debt by first giving Louisiana over to Spain -- before eventually having to take it back and then sell it to colonial America as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
It was during this hectic period of racial sensitivities and triangular treachery that began the complex tableau of race in America, a tableau that would extend in time from New Orleans forward to the American Revolution and beyond, on to the Civil War.