Talking about race in our society is like walking on a path full of eggshells, particularly among people who are not of the same race. Racism is a thorn that jabs us regularly, but we are unable to diminish its pain, despite our honest attempts and overwhelming desire to move on from the divisions race has created. Of course, a group, no matter how small it is, keep repeating the mantra that they have a right to be at the top of the echelon just because of their color. Their experience has always been looking in from the outside. They have never attempted, and never accepted the invitation, to understand the pain and dilemma of minorities, particularly the African American community. And they probably never will, as the process of finding common ground with other minorities will make them discover their own inadequacies and small-mindedness.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is an honest attempt to invite everybody who is ready to look beyond race to experience the pain, suffocation and dilemma of minorities. The story revolves around the African American twins that could pass as whites and the resulting duality and pain they go through with their black heritage and white appearance. Brit is telling things as they are. There is no attempt to hide or even define the struggles of these characters. This novel is not only an invitation for outsiders to get a glimpse of the dilemmas of the African-American community, it is also a way of reflection on its own derelictions and misguided interpretations.
The novel also shows subtle differences in racism according to the environment of the characters. From the small town of Mallard, where most of the inhabitants have lighter skin who look down on darker neighbors to the layers of mistreatment to the African Americans in the city of New Orleans, the novel encompasses all.
The language is crisp and flows very well. The jumps in the time-line gives this novel depth and increase the emotional resonance. The trans character is reinforcing the main theme, in which almost all characters are hiding a part of themselves. Some are running away physically and therefore hiding, and some are hiding parts of their personality to achieve better position in life. But all these attempts to hide a part of who they are and seek what they are not is creating a chaos inside. The pretense is costly. And the reality is too harsh.
These are strong characters who seem to give up their powers at times, but they are bound to achieve better understanding by this loss and gain an acceptance of who they are and what they need to stand for.
Highly recommended to those who are interested in understanding race and its role in our history and society.