TaRessa Stovall’s memoir, Swirl Girl: Coming of Race in the USA details over forty years of her life as a mixed-race child of a Jewish mother and Black father. The book gives voice to the often forgotten “others” in the conversations of race that are taking place in this country today.
Stovall deftly shares her personal truths while she reveals the realities that many people of color must cope with, such as coming into this world “unaware of certain things” and finding out that some folks will serve up “secret side orders of hate.” Trying to figure out exactly how she will navigate growing up, she at first “tries to fit in rather than stand out” Later, she realizes that fighting for justice with the Black Panthers or other community groups was still viewed as a threat. Because her mother rooted her children in strong foundations, Stovall knows who she is and what she is, but finds that the community seems confused. Is she White? Is she Black? She is continuously asked to identify herself, even to a friend who demands to know what kind of a man she plans to marry in the future.
Stovall’s odyssey evokes memories of the music of James Brown, Gil Scott Heron, and Curtis Mayfield; books by Malcolm X and James Baldwin; presentations by Nigerian novelist Chimamada Ngozi Adiche; the film Black Orpheus; and the story of Dan Freeman. She witnessed Black Power fists raised at the 1968 Summer Olympics, Cesar Chavez and the boycotting of lettuce and grapes, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The times felt unsettled. Still, the racial ambiguity with which people appraised her continued and she dug deeper to consider the painful questions and how she might best and most fairly answer them. The reader sees her change from a shy bystander into a powerful witness who will not let injustice slide by.
Ms. Stovall uses her talent for humor to fuse memories, music, performances, and literature to point the way toward an understanding of Mixed race children and adults in this incredibly complex world in which we all live. In closing her book, she shares this: “the singular tragedy of being Mixed race is racism—the source of pain and suffering for anyone who isn’t deemed White by birth or assimilation.”
Swirl Girl is a must read for anyone who wants to face the tough conversations that are necessary if we have any hope for change. However, the edition I read contains many formatting and editing issues that I found distracting. The author is aware of the issues and reports that they will be taken care of in a second edition.