Anyone who has experienced some form of racial oppression has experienced W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of “double consciousness.” From code-switching to sinking into the comfort of one’s family history, it’s a persistent concept that plagues and challenges one’s everyday existence.
Author Honorée Fanonne Jeffers fully embodies this concept in her 800-page novel about Ailey Pearl, desperate to forge her own identity but constantly finding herself pulled into her family’s traumatized history. In a complete contrast yet following the same train of thought, The Great Mrs. Elias by Barbara Chase-Riboud follows Hannah Elias and her mission to hide her Black heritage in public—passing as a white woman—only to find peace in her solitary mansion decorated to honor Cleopatra.
Often when reading we come up with our own images to substitute for the words on a page. But Run: A Novel about the late Congressman John Lewis is a graphic reimagining of his life during the Civil Rights movement and subsequent years of radicalized backlash. Also resurfaced is a novel from the late fantasist Octavia Butler, one of her Lilith’s Brood series.
Sometimes there’s no way to know where one part of one’s identity begins, but literature examining these ways of thinking has a way of teasing it apart and putting it back together.