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Fade: My Journeys in Multiracial Americaby Elliott Lewis
Synopses & Reviews
Television journalist Elliott Lewis weaves his memoirs as a biracial American with the voices of dozens of multiracial people, who are challenging how we think about race today.
"What are you?" This seemingly ordinary but politically charged question has become a touchstone for debate around race and ethnicity. Now more than ever, mixed-race Americans are calling themselves biracial and multiracial rather than feeling forced to choose only one race. Nearly seven million people checked more than one racial category in the 2000 U.S. census, the first time in history Americans had the option to mark more than one box.
With Fade, Lewis looks at the multiracial state of the union. Here he speaks with dozens of individuals, tackling hot-button issues such as the often complicated lives of multiracial people in communities of color, interracial dating, transracial adoption, immigration, and the birth of the multiracial movement. His interviews illuminate a variety of coping strategies and reveal stark generational differences in the ways mixed-race people have come to terms with their identity. The author also shares his own moving — and often humorous — firsthand experiences, along with intimate stories from the forefront of nationwide efforts to formally recognize the multiracial population.
"Written in conversational prose, Lewis's book is an approachable and thoughtful meditation on a controversial topic." Publishers Weekly
"In 1993, Time magazine unveiled the 'new face of America,' a beautiful woman of indeterminate race fashioned from a computer composite of the nation's numerous racial and ethnic minorities. Our future, it seemed, was not black and white — it wasn't even Technicolor — it was beige. The influx of immigrants, together with the breakdown of cultural barriers to interracial relationships, promised a... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) new, transracial American identity for the 21st century. Such predictions now seem premature. The 2000 census, the first to give respondents the option of checking more than one racial box, found that only 2.4 percent of the population identifies itself as multiracial. This belies the more complex reality written all over our faces. We are more mixed than we know, or at least than we are willing to admit. Many Americans claim a single race even when their genealogies suggest something else. And often those on the borders are asked to pick sides or risk being banished to a racial no man's land. Elliott Lewis' 'Fade' is a postcard from the edge of these racial boundaries. Part memoir, part investigative report, part user's guide to the multiracial you, it offers a much-needed clarification of America's new racial reality. 'This book is about those of us for whom being multiracial is part of our self-identity,' Lewis explains. 'We simply don't think of ourselves as belonging to only one "race." ... Our blended heritage is a part of our lives in a way that cannot be easily dismissed.' Lewis has a personal stake in his subject matter; he is second-generation biracial, though first-generation in claiming it (his biracial parents consider themselves black). Recognizing his own — and our nation's — blended heritage means nothing less to him than legitimizing his own identity. 'Fade' shares a spirit of self-revelation with James McBride's best-selling memoir of multiracialism, 'The Color of Water.' Unlike McBride, however, Lewis interweaves his own story with the varied experiences of many others along the color line. This is a book teeming with voices, from the mixed-race man who advocates 'racelessness' to the white mother of biracial children who emerges as a leader in the nascent multiracial movement. Lewis also draws extensively from the work of social scientists, psychologists and race scholars, explaining their often complex theories in plainspoken language. The book also testifies to multiracial America's dogged diversity, not simply of race, but of opinion. Perhaps the greatest tension Lewis exposes is the one between the individual's freedom of self-identification and society's urge to classify. 'What are you?' is an inquiry rarely born of friendly curiosity, but almost always of the questioner's nagging discomfort with another person's lack of racial legibility. How people identify themselves in America, however, has less to do with color than with culture, and culture is hard to discern simply by looking. While Lewis acknowledges as much, he nonetheless spends most of the book dealing with the comparatively clearer issues of color. For all the controversy of its subject matter and all its personal implications for its author, 'Fade' is a strikingly objective book. A broadcast journalist, Lewis seems more at ease asking than answering difficult questions. Admittedly, there is something refreshing about a writer on race who gives such careful attention to other people's opinions rather than spouting off punditry of his own, but it comes at a cost. 'Fade' lacks a unifying voice — the evidence of an active mind at work in synthesizing, challenging and extending the many ideas it presents. In later chapters Lewis stops telling his own story in favor of cramming in as much information as possible. For instance, he includes a multiracial 'survival guide' complete with pie graphs, flow charts and quasi-humorous lists. All of this material is probably effective in Lewis' diversity seminars; in the book, however, it comes off flat. The book's occasional failures are in large part the result of Lewis' unflagging commitment to inclusiveness; he presents so many voices that he sometimes forgets his own. This is a shame because when Lewis does assert his voice, he is uncommonly expressive. In the closing pages, for instance, he offers the 'racial compass' as a metaphor for multiracial experience. 'Our challenge,' he writes, 'is to define our proper alignment with the racial horizon, recognizing that no two individuals will chart the exact same course.' Lewis' book challenges us to respect each multiracial individual's freedom of self-definition while seeking a common course for a new America." Reviewed by Adam Bradley, an assistant professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Mixing memoir, survey, and polemic, Lewis, a freelance broadcast journalist, offers an engaging overview of the multiracial experience." Library Journal
"This is a most interesting read on evolving notions of racial self-identification in America." Booklist
Continuing the conversations begun by The Color of Water and Black, White, and Jewish, a noted journalist weaves his personal memoirs as a biracial American with the voices of dozens of other biracial people, who are challenging how we think and speak about race today.
About the Author
Elliott Lewis is a broadcast journalist who sits on the board of the National Black Journalists Association. He has reported for ABC, BET, as well as local TV stations in Washington DC, Dallas, and Southern California. He lives in Washington DC.
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