REVIEW: Race, Identity, and Privilege from the US to the Congo (Memoir)

"The first fascinating chapter of Brenda Berrian’s journey to Africa as a fourteen-year-old tells you that you are going on a journey with her, one that will be fascinating for you as it was for her. Arriving in the Congo, where her father has taken a job, she is excited that, as a black person in a majority-black country, she will be both special and ‘at home.’ She soon meets a Congolese, who asks where she is from. Replying ‘America,’ she is dumbfounded when the man insists that she cannot be because Americans are white! Ironically, leaving America teaches Brenda …how complicated it is to be an American, a black American, and especially a black female American….As Brenda learns about herself, we learn about her, about the world, and about ourselves."

 

Laurence Glasco University of Pittsburgh, editor of The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh

 

"Brenda F. Berrian takes us on the many journeys that shaped her development. She begins by capturing her interactions as a teenager with her family In the Congo of 1961. Returning to the States, she negotiates the Civil Rights Movement. Future journeys include European and African nations and the Caribbean as she forges a career in racially different spaces. In her writing, she shares reactions, but revisits experiences as she gains knowledge. Sometimes an insider, but often as an outsider, she witnesses systemic racism around the globe and the depth of humanity as people care for each other."

Elizabeth Higginbotham, University of Delaware, author of Too Much to Ask: Black Women in the Era of Integration

 

"Part autobiography, part chronicle, Berrian’s Race, Identity, and Privilege from the US to the Congo is the compelling story of a life lived across three continents and shaped by the tumultuous decades of protest against Jim Crow, mobilizations for civil rights and equality, and the equally turbulent struggles of Africa’s decolonization project. Berrian narrates her growing nuanced sense of identity as a Black woman-daughter, sister, friend, student, scholar, teacher. It is a story of strength and resilience, wisdom and pain, humor and love."

 

Eileen Julien, Indiana University, author of Travels with Mae: Scenes of a New Orleans Girlhood

 

"This diaspora-encompassing memoir by a distinguished scholar in literature and culture shows how the strong family of her youth guided her into years of travel, encounter, and leadership in building the formidable network of Black scholars. Beautifully written, its nuanced tales of hairstyles, gender, family, and identity are profoundly entertaining."

 

Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh, author of A History of Humanity: The Evolution of the Human System

 

"Berrian presents a richly textured and thought-provoking perspective on race and identity and how it continues to evolve through her many journeys across the African continent. Through her sweeping synthesis of her South African travels (which focus on her personal experiences of racial discrimination), her Fort Hare journey, her exposure to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, her understanding of the spirit of ubuntu and the challenges presented, she provides a clear grasp of political and social history. While this allows for astonishing conclusions, it adds an impressive and exciting dimension to scholarship on apartheid and race with illuminating assumptions."

 

Narissa Ramdhani, Honorary Consul, Republic of Chile in South Africa

 

"The strength of this book is the black struggle serves as a continuous backdrop, from the Civil Rights Movement to the establishment and survival of Black Studies departments, of which Berrian was a chair at a major American university. It is also backed by painstaking research, as a teenage daughter during her academic father’s stint as an educator in the Congo in the early 1960s; as the second black American woman to receive a doctoral degree from the Sorbonne who spent time with African and Caribbean students; and later as a professor in Gabon and South Africa."

 

Reinhard Sander, University of Puerto Rico, co-editor of Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Interviews with the Kenyan Author