Book Review: Colored People-A Memoir By Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Book Review_ Colored People -A Memoir By Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

 

One Sunday I met with my cousin for lunch at D’Bronx Pizza down on 39th Street in Kansas City, Missouri. After we said our goodbyes, I was anxious to get across the street to one of my favorite bookstores in the city, Prosperos. I think my husband and I discovered this little spot, oh probably when we were dating about 12 or years ago. It’s a quaint little bookstore with a variety of books and a basement with books as well (side note: they have Plexiglass on the first level where you can see the basement through the floor. I’m not sure why that’s cool, but I like it).

Anyways, I decided to venture into the basement where I discovered a section for Autobiographies. I personally love reading about other peoples lives, so this is a section I usually frequent in the library or bookstore. Plus, I had just finished Michelle Obama’s book, “Becoming” the month before and was still in the mode of learning about others.

While browsing this book stuck out, “Colored People”. I thought to myself, what an odd title. ‘Cause in 2019, we wouldn’t dare use that term to describe ourselves. As long as I’ve been alive we have referred to ourselves as “Black” or “African-American”, maybe even
“People of Color”. Any Black or other wouldn’t dare use that term, unless they were looking to get knocked out, right? Then I saw who it was by and I got it. Immediately, I decided that was my read for the month.

I have watched many episode of “Finding Your Roots” hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS. It is show that actually prompted me to do some of my own research on my mother’s mom’s side of the family, which I didn’t know too much about (side note: this is my grandma Alice, who if you read this blog you know I talk about her quite often and I named one of my vintage shops after).

It’s quite interesting to find out where your family comes from and your heritage. In addition to that, I enjoy reading about, as well as, learning about black history and how things were “back in the day”. I guess that may have something to do with what I do for a living with vintage stuff. It’s just intriguing!

The book is a memoir about Mr. Gates’ life, a vivid walk down memory lane and a brief telling of how blacks have went from being called the N-word, to “Colored”, to “African-American”, to “Black”. It’s also a tale of how racism existed even in this small town and how color-ism existed in his own family with the Coleman’s (his mom’s side of the family) and the Gates’ (his dad’s side).

Mr. Gates grew up in the mill town of Piedmont, West Virginia during the 50’s and 60’s. Obviously a time of segregation. He recounts a relationship with a white girl he had liked since elementary school and how dangerous it was to be seen together when they started dating even in the early 70’s. His tales of his mother pressing hair,  and the double meaning of what the “kitchen” is for black folks. For me the way that Gates, Jr. tells these stories I would liken to the way my Dad tells stories.

His descriptions of different uncles and aunts, local neighbors and town people are so vivid you can almost see the person. Descriptions of Family Reunions, Sunday Dinners, how to make an old school du-rag out of pantyhose, faith and (“gaw-duh”) as well as, learning about taboo subjects like sex from your Barber were some of the highlight of his upbringing.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It made me laugh and think. It was a good description of small town fun and how black families were and still are in many aspects. It was definitely relate-able for me.

Great read.

To check out what I’m currently reading, follow me @nicolealicia on Good Reads!

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