The Vanishing Half was released in June 2020 and it delineates the theme of whiteness, passing whiteness, and the privileges that come along with it. The Vanishing Half navigated me through the experience of someone who evaded her past only to find that her past would never leave her. This book provoked a lot of internal-dialogue for me.
The story takes place in the south originating in a small fictional town where light-skinned black people live and aim to keep it that way. Generational trauma was exemplified as I read a story about five women across three generations each being affected by the racism and trauma of the ones before them.
A brief synopsis (without spoilers): two black sisters (twins) Stella and Desiree with skin so light they pass as white, leave their small town with the goal of transitioning into independence. They are soon separated by life choices a few years later. Stella chooses her privilege, marries a white man, and inaugurates her life as a white woman from that point forward. She abandons her twin sister along with her entire past. Desiree chose the opposite; she marries a very dark skin, black man resulting in her daughter having darker skin while Stella’s daughter does not show a trace of her black heritage.
While reading, I was reminded about the broad lens of racism, the relationship between trauma and racism, and the affects trauma and racism have on our self-worth. It felt familiar to read about racism within one’s own race; I see in within my culture all of the time. As a reader, my thoughts shifted from “what is wrong with her?” to a trauma-informed question: “what happened to her that made her relinquish her identity and have this adversity towards her own?” As I continued to read the story, the words safety and survival came to my mind. When the story shed light on the trauma stories, it clicked. I understood the lies and projections Stella had on her own race. I understood her willingness to actively deny reality so far that her choices affected her interpersonal relationships, specifically with her daughter.
During these unsettling times, consuming an overwhelming amount of media and stories can be exhausting. Exhaustion, especially as a result of injustice leads to anger and polarized thinking. The advantage about reading the book is that there is space for the trauma story to be told. In our reality, when the injustice is happening, when the racism is occurring, when people are dying as a result of racism, there is no tolerance and no space.
This book depicts one of the many versions of racism. It provides a lot of talking points for people interested in learning how trauma and safety can play a role in racism and for those who find themselves in a similar situation. I read this book through the lens of a therapist but recommend this book to both therapists and non-therapists and welcome you to share your thoughts.