Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Lawrence Hill — Biography

Lawrence Hill is the son of American immigrants — a black father and a white mother — who came to Canada the day after they married in 1953 in Washington, D.C. On his father's side, Hill's grandfather and great grandfather were university-educated, ordained ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His mother came from a Republican family in Oak Park, Illinois, graduated from Oberlin College and went on to become a civil rights activist in D.C. The story of how they met, married, left the United States and raised a family in Toronto is described in Hill's bestselling memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada (HarperCollins Canada, 2001). Growing up in the predominantly white suburb of Don Mills, Ontario in the sixties, Hill was greatly influenced by his parents' work in the human rights movement. Much of Hill's writing touches on issues of identity and belonging.

Lawrence Hill's third novel was published as The Book of Negroes in Canada and the UK, and as Someone Knows My Name in the USA, Australiaand New Zealand. It won the overall Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the Ontario Library Association's Evergreen Award and CBC Radio's Canada Reads. The book was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright LEGACY Award and longlisted for both the Giller Prize and the IMPAC Award.

June 21, 2011
Hello Mr. Hill,
I was just listening to your interview on CBC Radio: About that disquieting word, "Negro". 
Some character in Holland intends to burn your book because you use the word "Negro" in the title:
In our time, the popular word is "Black."
There are relatively few people who can be classified as truly "black." It is only people whose origins were in deepest Africa and southern India and the aboriginal people of Australia whose skins may appear strikingly black. I have seen only a handful of blue-black people in Montreal. I was a child at the time, and their appearance was so unusual, it took me aback. The hundreds of others I have seen all my life, and the many people I know are various shades of brown.
So, I would not mind if people chose to be called "brown" or "dark-skinned". Those terms would be accurate if it is necessary to identify someone by their appearance.
The term "Black" is a political word stirred up by extremists during the civil rights upheaval. It came from angry people who called themselves "X" and promoted hatred toward Caucasians and Jews. It does not apply to most people of African descent.
My beloved husband, Cliff Carter, was a descendant of African-American slaves and teachers. He was born in Manhattan in 1902. In his youth, the word "black" was always followed by "bastard." No self-respecting Negro wanted to be called "black".
The respectful term in the first half of the twentieth century was "Colored" and that felt right to the folks I know. But then people came along and said, "What color?"  So you can't win.
Being identified as "Negro" was not considered offensive in North America in the 20th  century, until the extremists burst onto the scene. Following decades of unyielding oppression and injustice, it took violent people to get the world to pay attention.
So, many sheep paid attention to the "X's" and emulated their hatred and took on the mantle of "Black" with a threatening fist emblazoned on their jackets. They felt empowered.
At the same time, respectable Negro people looked to Martin Luther King for a way to maintain their integrity and their dignity and their humanity - and peace.
"African-American" is a mouthful. We run into the same tug-of-war about North American "First Nations" people - Aboriginals? Indians?
It isn't the word that matters. It is your intention that matters, and so much of this Black business is about politics and history and injustice and power and not at all about people or race.

No comments: