Friday, February 5, 2010

Color Online Group Read Discussion: Children of the Waters by Carleen Brice

Welcome to Color Online's first group book read! For the inaugural read, Carleen Brice's Children of the Waters has been chosen for a five day long discussion. This is Brice's second novel and it explores the idea of identity mainly through mixed-race adoptee, Billie. Once her white half-sister discovers her existence and shares the startling news, Billie is faced with having to re-examine who she is. This novel is not subtle in its statements on race, but it is nuanced in dealing with the complexity of the protagonist processing being adopted and biracial.

Now, here are a few questions to get things started.

Which aspect of the discovery do you think was more profound for Billie, being adopted or being bi-racial and why?

Why do you think Zenobia and Herbert kept Billie's adoption a secret?

Juxtaposing how Billie and Will identify ethnically, how is the idea of race as a social construct proven or disproven?

2/8- new questions

For those of you who have multiracial children or you have family members with multiracial children how do parents help their children form their own sense of racial identity and how do you help them with different responses from others to them because they are multiracial?

What about Will? What did Carleen get right? What about Will didn't work for you?

Does have anything in common with Celicia? If yes, does she recognize it?

*Please remember to reference questions and/or commenter when responding.


29 comments:

Doret said...

I'll tackle the first two questions.

1-For Billie I believe being bi-racial has a larger impact on her. Thoughout her life Billie had her racial lines cleary defined. Now with this news she is forced to rethink a lifetime of thoughts.

Though I don't think adoption can't be taken likely either, Billie spent her entire life thinking she took after her mom or dad in many ways, only to find out it wasn't possible has to hurt deep down.

To think you know your birth parents and are connected by blood and one day as an adult to realize its a lie.

Hmm, rethinking my answer.

2-I think Billie's parents didn't tell her she was adopted for three reasons.

One to protect Billie

Two- At the time there was probably still a stigma with adoption and not being able to have a child of your own.

Three - Zenobia and Herbert were both up and coming Black professionals they needed to have an air of perfection.

Color Online said...

Which aspect of the discovery do you think was more profound for Billie, being adopted or being bi-racial and why?

I think both were difficult but I having to confront her own prejudices was huge for Billie. It's very easy for black folks to talk about how prejudice or racist white people can be, but I have known black to argue that they are in no way prejudice or racist. I have known black people to cuss white folks fierce for the stupid things they say and then turn around and talk about white folks and think there's absolutely nothing wrong with their attitudes.

Billie had quite a bit to say about white folks and with the exception of her co-worker who she saw as different (and how many times have we, black people been told we were different or it was implied by white associates?), was very critical of white folks.

Then she learns she's biracial. That's a blow.

Why do you think Zenobia and Herbert kept Billie's adoption a secret?

I don't think it was a matter of their careers. Maybe initially, but I doubt it. Even with the stigma, black folks have been raising other folks babies forever often without formally adopting. I don't think in our culture the stigma is as pronounced. I could be wrong, but I grew up (I'm 45) where raising children of others and eventually adopting them was pretty seamless. My extended family is pretty blended.

I think it was fear. And it was as Zenobia said. It was her fear. After losing 3 babies, she couldn't risk the rejection of a child she saw as completely hers.

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

Hope I'm not terribly late with this one? =D (Will skip out on 2nd question and do the third since it wasn't addressed so far. =D)

1) Which aspect of the discovery do you think was more profound for Billie, being adopted or being bi-racial and why?

Hmm, I am going to go with being bi-racial. I do think, for the character Billie herself, both had an extreme impact on her life, but I thought the bi-racial aspect was the theme explored in more length within the novel itself. Also how that contributed to her confronting with her own prejudices like what Susan said. =D

3) Juxtaposing how Billie and Will identify ethnically, how is the idea of race as a social construct proven or disproven?

I think the main part of the novel that proved the idea of race as a social construct was that scene towards the end wherein Billie said how it didn't matter how much "white" blood she had in her, if she was viewed by others as black, she was black. (Er, will find the quote and scene later, don't have the book at hand ATM)

Will come back with general comments on novel and more in-depth answers to questions. =D

Zetta said...

Carleen did a good job by having Billie construct herself as a sort of "Nubian earth mother"--so finding out she's biracial was a shock that disrupted her own sense of authenticity--which she had been using against some white women (like the wannabes in her dance class).

Color Online said...

Can't argue there, Zetta. Cecilia was a wannabe.

Color Online said...

Billie was also hard on Trish which made sense to me. Trish was why Billie had to rethink her identity.

I'm glad Carleen created authentic conflict between the sisters.

I had a hard time with Trish failing to consider and preparing Will for the prejudice and racism he was going to eventually face. I couldn't understand why she believed not seeing color and raising her son that way was going to protect him. And since I'm on this not seeing race bit, someone please explain to me why whites in particular think not seeing race is a good thing? I don't have to not see race to accept white people so why tell me you don't see my race? That really translates to saying you have to not see it in order to be okay with me. Now how can that possibly be a compliment?

BrownGirl said...

Oh Susan! The idea of being colorblind for many white people is probably a benefit of white privilege. It's easy to say I refuse to "see" color when that is not something you're forced to deal with almost daily. Now, for someone to say they refuse to let color define how they see others is what makes a bit more sense, IMHO. I question the intentions of someone who makes that claim because color is not a stigma, it's the negative stereotypes that are attached to different people of color that are a problem. If you don't subscribe to them then you should be able to openly acknowledge the spectrum that makes up who you associate with. By ignoring color makes me question "who are you trying to convince, me or yourself?"

Color Online said...

So Terri,

What did you think about how Billlie responded?

Do you think some readers will have a hard time understanding why Billie treated Trish the way she did in the beginning?

BrownGirl said...

I'm just gonna co-sign some points by others:

Susan, again, white privilege clouded Trish's judgment on trying to raise her son from a colorblind perspective. His father also has to be held accountable too. Even though he wasn't present he still should have reached out to Trish and/or his son to provide some insight.

And, yes, some Black folks can be very racist or prejudiced and never check themselves but always have something to say about white folks when not one may have ever reciprocated those feelings. This automatic hatred of all white people is an ugly part of our culture that needs more attention.

Zetta's assessment of Billie being a "Nubian earth mother" type is exactly why I think being bi-racial was the bigger blow. She seemed to become unsure that she could continue to own her blackness.

BrownGirl said...

Susan, I think the readers who claim to not see color will feel Billie is harsh and those who approach the story a little more realistically will empathize with Billie. For a Black woman to have a white woman show up and tell her she's her real sister is so much to digest.

BrownGirl said...

Oh, and Trish was quite pushy and too idealistic regarding how the reunion with Billie would go down.

Color Online said...

I was surprised how naive Trish was. Then I asked myself why I was surprised? It seems she led such an insular life why would she be more realistic? She thought her grand parents were an aberration. I think Trish thought more people were more open-minded and accepting.

BrownGirl said...

I just read the passage again where Cecelia proclaims that she's "fourteen percent African!" and I laughed out loud...again.
So, what is everyone's take on the Cecelia's of the world? Is it always a fetish or is genuine admiration for the culture just not expressed well?

evelyn.n.alfred said...

Oh fiddle-sticks! I can't participate unless I read this book.

I'll have to wait until the snow agrees with me traveling.

Carleen Brice said...

Thank you all for discussing my book and for your insightful views! I purposefully added the part about Trish not seeing color because I have personally heard SO MANY white people (and some Latinas too, actually) say that. Even Stephen Colbert pokes fun at it insisting the only way he knows he's white is because other people tell him because he can't see color/race. It's far too common. I think people believe that denying race will make us all equal, as if being different races inherently makes us unequal.

@Evelyn, "Fiddlesticks"? You crack me up!

Color Online said...

I don't hang out with Cecilia's too often but I have worked with a few. For me it, it's a matter of intent. I thought Celicia honestly didn't get why her attitude and behavior is offensive. Some days, you have less tolerance to deal with it. I also thought, too, maybe Billie let it build up instead of having a real conversation with Cecilia.

I have known Trisha and she too can wear you down. You know she means well but you want her to take off the glasses.

I like the socio-economic element in the story,too. We don't look at class enough in this country and it's often missing in literature.

I'm glad Carleen didn't write the poor black girl finding out she had been rejected by her white, wealthy family.

Part of the problem with Celicia is privilege and access.She has the luxury of exploring culture and society in a way very different than Trish. And then there is Billie. Her socioeconomics is a sore spot for Nick. Nick has more in common with Trish in terms of upbringing than Billie.

Billie grew up with the luxury of opting to teach Head Start without hardship. Nick choosing music meant also having a day gig and there was no safety net for him just like there was none for Trish.

wdjenkins1 said...

I thought that this novel did a great job of dealing with the whole question of ancestry and who it is that we honor. Is it blood relatives who count or do we have a collective ancestry worth honoring? As usual during Black History Month, there are programs on about genetically tracing our ancestors back to the African continent. I always wonder how much this can tell us about who we are. Billie, like many people, focused so hard on those to whom she thought she was biologically connected that her whole world view was shaken when she learned the truth.

I also appreciated Carleen's look at a young woman with a chronic illness. (I have lived with a chronic illness since 1983.) Billie held herself together by believing that she could exercise control over her illness through her own behavior. This felt very real to me, especially for such a young woman still building her life. The limits to what a person is able to control when chronically ill can be devastating.

susan said...

Wd,

Thanks for bringing attention to how Billie deals with chronic illness. I have a young cousin who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome.

wdjenkins1 said...

Susan, my daughter and I both live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

susan said...

Despite her illness my cousin managed a modeling career and an impressive academic career. She was homeschooled. Accepted to 5 universities/colleges including Harvard. She chose a small institution out west.

wdjenkins1 said...

I don't want to spoil this lovely book for those who may not have read it, so I will just say that I found the ritual at the end of the book to be very touching. It will stay with me for a long time.

Color Online said...

For those of you who have multiracial children or you have family members with multiracial children how do parents help their children form their own sense of racial identity and how do you help them with different responses from others to them because they are multiracial?

Color Online said...

What about Will? What did Carleen get right? What about Will didn't work for you?

Color Online said...

Does have anything in common with Celicia? If yes, does she recognize it?

Carleen Brice said...

Susan, Yes, it would have been too stereotypical for a "poor black girl" and a "rich white family." I like to shake things up more than that. Or at least I try!

I myself have many Cecilias and quite a few Trish's. Cecilia, I have no tolerance for. But Trish, even tho she can be exhausting, does have her heart in the right place.

MissAttitude said...

Ok I haven't finished the novel yet but I can sort of contribute. I think being bi-racial is the biggest shock to Billie because as stated by Zetta and susan, Billie saw herself as so connected to her African ancestors and was a "earth mother" boho sort of person, that her being white would be even more jarring.

Also, I think it was completely naive of trish to not teach her son about the racisim he will have to endure as an African American male. and for not allowing him to go to church (kind of funny too!)

As someone who is multiracial, I sometimes struggle with which culture I relate to the most, some days I feel more Black, others more Latina, lol. My parents have never forced me to choose between cultures, I am growing up listening to Spanish music, R&B, hip hop and reggaeton. I would say that I relate more to being Black because well, I look Black and that's the first thing people see. Also, I don't speak Spanish and it's hard for me to relate to being a culture if I don't speak the language. I love being multiracial though, it's how we all used to be!

What a great discussion =D

Shelia said...

For those of you who have family members with multiracial children how do parents help their children form their own sense of racial identity?

What I've seen done is that the kids spend time with both sides of the family. It's important to express to them that they have the best of both races. That it's okay not to label oneself; although society does label us all.

wdjenkins1 said...

My grandson and my grandson-due-in-May are biracial. My son-in-law is Jewish, but does not attend synagogue or consider himself religious. All 4 of us grandparents live here in Atlanta, so my grandson has plenty of exposure to both sides of the family. He attends an international charter school which is majority African American but includes children from almost any ethnic background imaginable. The school has an emphasis in Chinese, so he's learning the Chinese language and culture. They are very inclusive, studying cultural customs and celebrations from around the world. My grandson identifies himself primarily as African American, but respects all aspects of his background. Because I provide him with most of his books, I try to be as inclusive as possible. He has had a few problems with African American children who, because he has light skin and lots of curly hair, have questioned his ethnicity, but so far, any problems have been easy to smooth out. I suspect that more problems may develop as he gets older, but right now he's very comfortable with who he is.

wdjenkins1 said...
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