Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada

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  • Hardcover
  • 224 pages
  • Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada
  • Lawrence Hill
  • English
  • 24 October 2018
  • 0002000202

About the Author: Lawrence Hill

Hill is the author of ten books of fiction and non fiction In 2005, he won his first literary honour a National Magazine Award for the article Is Africa s Pain Black America s Burden published in The Walrus His first two novels were Some Great Thing and Any Known Blood, and his first non fiction work to attract national attention was the memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice On Being Black and White in Canada But it was his third novel, The Book of Negroes HarperCollins Canada, 2007 published in some countries as Someone Knows My Name and in French as Aminata that attracted widespread attention in Canada and other countries Lawrence Hill s non fiction book, Blood The Stuff of Life was published in September 2013 by House of Anansi Press Blood is a personal consideration of the physical, social, cultural and psychological aspects of blood, and how it defines, unites and divides us Hill drew from the book to deliver the 2013 Massey Lectures across Canada In 2013, Hill published the essay Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book An Anatomy of a Book Burning University of Alberta Press.His fourth novel, The Illegal, was published by HarperCollins Canada in 2015 and by WW Norton in the USA in 2016 Hill is currently writing a new novel and a children s book, and co writing a television miniseries adaptation of The Illegal for Conquering Lion Pictures Hill is a professor of creative writing at the University of Guelph, in Ontario.


Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in CanadaLawrence Hill S Remarkable Novel, Any Known Blood, Amulti Generational Story About A Canadian Man Of Mixed Race, Was Met Withcritical Acclaim And It Marked The Emergence Of A Powerful New Voice In Canadianwriting Now Hill, Himself A Child Of A Black Father And White Mother, Brings UsBLACK BERRY, SWEET JUICE On Being Black And White In Canada, Aprovocative And Unprecedented Look At A Timely And Engrossing TopicIn BLACK BERRY, SWEET JUICE, Hill Movingly Reveals His Struggleto Understand His Own Personal And Racial Identity Raised By Human Rightsactivist Parents In A Predominantly White Ontario Suburb, He Is Imbued Withlingering Memories And Offers A Unique Perspective In A Satirical Yet Serioustone, Hill Describes The Ambiguity Involved In Searching For His Identity Anespecially Complex And Difficult Journey In A Country That Prefers To See Him Asneither Black Nor WhiteInterspersed With Slices Of His Personal Experiences, Fascinating Familyhistory And The Experiences Of Thirty Six Other Canadians Of Mixed Raceinterviewed For This Book, BLACK BERRY, SWEET JUICE Also Examinescontemporary Racial Issues In Canadian Society Hill Explores The Terms Used Todescribe Children Of Mixed Race, The Unrelenting Hostility Towards Mix Race Couples And The Real Meaning Of The Black Canadianexperience It Arrives At A Critical Time When, In The Highly Publicized Andcontroversial Case Of Elijah Van De Perre, The Son Of A White Mother And Blackfather In British Columbia, The Supreme Court Of Canada Has Just Granted Custodyto Elijah S Mother, Kimberly Van De PerreA Reflective, Sensitive And Often Humourous Book, BLACK BERRY, SWEET JUICEis A Thought Provoking Discourse On The Current Status Of Race Relations InCanada And It S A Fascinating And Important Read For Us All

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10 thoughts on “Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada

  1. Kathleen says:

    My father s relatives sometimes said, The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice But my father bombed the pious saying to smithereens with his own sarcastic version The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice but if you get too black, it ain t no use He turned self affirmation on its head with this bittersweet reminder of the hopelessness of being black in a society that doesn t love or even like black people Lawrence Hill begins this book with personal stories about how his black fat My father s relatives sometimes said, The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice But my father bombed the pious saying to smithereens with his own sarcastic version The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice but if you get too black, it ain t no use He turned self affirmation on its head with this bittersweet reminder of the hopelessness of being black in a society that doesn t love or even like black people Lawrence Hill begins this book with personal stories about how his black father and white mother met and married, and what it was like for him growing up in an otherwise entirely white Toronto suburb But Hill looks beyond the personal, sharing his coast to coast interviews with Canadians of black and white parentage, delving into provocative and fascinating subjects Courageous , sensitive and often humorous, Black Berry, Sweet Juice will enrich the way Canadians discuss matters of race and racial identity Through sincere feeling, a generous attitude, strong narrative and well crafted prose some really superb writing Hill convinced Canadians that race is a topic we can tackle THE GAZETTE Montreal Full of pointed, poignant and powerful observations The Globe and Mail This sophisticated and exquisite description of the identity struggles faced by mixed race people from coast to coast is a must read Fascinating, provocative, gripping CONSTANCE BACKHOUSE, author of Colour Coded A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900 1950Reading this book was akin to having a conversation with Lawrence Hill, who was and remains one of my favourite Canadian authors I highly recommend this well written book 5 stars

  2. Yasmin says:

    Another excellent book by Lawrence Hill He has a wonderful way of being fuuny, poigant and moving In this book raises very interesting insight into what it means to be black and biracial in Canada Another look at the over polite one way of looking at it hunky dory Canada, where the ravages of slavery lingered and the Klan rode around not just in the prairies and segregation and discrimation was very much alive and real in Canada In fact racial discrimation has not gone away with the passag Another excellent book by Lawrence Hill He has a wonderful way of being fuuny, poigant and moving In this book raises very interesting insight into what it means to be black and biracial in Canada Another look at the over polite one way of looking at it hunky dory Canada, where the ravages of slavery lingered and the Klan rode around not just in the prairies and segregation and discrimation was very much alive and real in Canada In fact racial discrimation has not gone away with the passages of time A must read for anyone interested in all aspects of Canadian history past, present and future

  3. Sharanja says:

    Race is never a really straightforward issue, especially if you ve grown up in Canada It sometimes seems like this country does everything it can to not talk about race How many times have you heard the words I don t see color from the people around you That s niceif race doesn t matter to you But it does matter And it matters to a lot of people Especially when how well we are treated in society is in direct correlation with the melanin in our skin But this is where it gets really co Race is never a really straightforward issue, especially if you ve grown up in Canada It sometimes seems like this country does everything it can to not talk about race How many times have you heard the words I don t see color from the people around you That s niceif race doesn t matter to you But it does matter And it matters to a lot of people Especially when how well we are treated in society is in direct correlation with the melanin in our skin But this is where it gets really complicated How does race affect one when your parents are from different races What if you are both black and white How do you construct your racial identity then Are you black Or depending the lightness of your skin, are you white Then again, you might be neither and just mixed These are questions that Lawrence Hill attempts to answer in his novel Black Berry, Sweet Juice Hill examines the issue of being mixed race person living in Canada, and what role racial issues have in constructing an individual s identity I liked that Hill included stories from his own family s history to illustrate the complexities of being mixed Hill s parents were involved in an interracial relationship during a time in U.S history in which blacks and whites couldn t even eat at the same restaurant together They fled to Canada to start a family without the racism of their home country.These stories added something personal to a topic that is already interesting enough There is an abundance of books on racism in the United States, but not a lot in regards to its neighbor to the north

  4. Mj says:

    Part memoir, part essays and loosely integrated Hill writes chapters on various topics related to what it means to be biracial He interviews 34 biracial people, both male and female, children of black and white parents a mixture of black male and white female and visa versa in addition, to nine other people seven black and two white whose experiences and insights Hill was interested in learningabout Most were adults from across Canada ranging in age from eighteen to sixty one He a Part memoir, part essays and loosely integrated Hill writes chapters on various topics related to what it means to be biracial He interviews 34 biracial people, both male and female, children of black and white parents a mixture of black male and white female and visa versa in addition, to nine other people seven black and two white whose experiences and insights Hill was interested in learningabout Most were adults from across Canada ranging in age from eighteen to sixty one He also interviews a number of his own family members All but two people agreed that their interviews could be on the record Hill provided information from interviews but used pseudonyms to protect privacy.The views of those interviewed are disparate The uniqueness with how people respond is quite amazing Some identify, as black others as white and some seem to give no thought whatsoever to identifying as white or black How people identify themselves and as what race they see themselves, seems to be very personal and individualistic No specific way is the right way as Hill regularly points out.I particularly enjoyed Hill s memoir portion of the book learning about his background, his family and his personal thoughts about growing up and being bi racial in Canada There was a fair amount of history about Canada, the 60 s I learned about things that I knew nothing about for example that here was a large Ku Klux Klan contingent in Ontario In terms of the interviews and analysis, Hill was very analytical It is clear that he has given a lot of thought to what it means to be a child of a black parent and a white parent in Canada He did not give Canadians any kudos or passes in terms of their racism Rather he writes that he and many others experienced racism and racist incidents in Canada and he really highlighted Canadians Pollyanish sense and their delusion that racism didn t exist in Canada Delusion and Polyannish are my choice of words, not Hill s but I think they best convey Canada s naivety the and denial that racism doesn t exist in Canada that Hill wrote That Canadians seem to be in avoidance about even discussing the issue of racism in Canada is a strong point of view that Hill puts forward and supports with many specific examples.Hill s section on bi racial peoples self identification and white people s constant wishing to categorize how many parts or what percentage of black that bi racial people are is illuminating and very much on point He uses lots of information and references to highlight his message and his use of tongue in cheek comments and attitude further strengthen his hypotheses that social constructs are the driving forces behind these attempts to label and categorize people.Chapter HeadingsIntroductionPart One Family MattersYou AreI Wouldn t Have Time to Educate HerDon Mills, 1960 sAllah s BlessingThe Same Place as HimPart Two Border CrossingsHair IssuesWhat Are You Doing Here But for the Interference.with His ArrangementNo Negroes HerePart Three Sticks and StonesThe QuestionThe N WordForty Eight Parts WhiteI Was Here Before the Klan Conclusion Say It Ain t SoAcknowledgementsFurther ReadingQuotes and Comments of InterestP 190 I can never help thinking how ironic it is that Black History Month is the shortest month of the year Twenty eight cold days Damn P 232 The point is that every incident of racism diminishes us all It diminishes the racist, the target of the attack and all of us in the human family, regardless of our race If our neighbour has been attacked, then so have we.My sister and I are many things Human beings Son and daughter Parents Canadians Writers Decent cooks, if I say so myself We also happen to be black Because we say we are Because we identify with this part of our ancestry Who s going to say it ain t so Note Written in the present tense because Lawrence s sister Karen was alive when this book was written.Per Lawrence Hill on P 200 Let me quote briefly from Who is Black One Nation s Definition by F James Davis Genes are randomly distributed among individuals Having one orblack ancestors does not prove that an individual has some negroid traits or can transmit genes from African forebears The widely held belief is that an individual s racial traits and genetic carriers are necessarily in direct proportion to the person s fraction of African black ancestry Some persons with three eighths or even one half African lineage have been known to pass as white, presumably in cases in which the number of negroid genes was much less than the proportion of African ancestry Per Lawrence Hill Race, my friends, is a social construct Our obsession with mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with society.I am not sure why people have gone to all kinds of linguistic troubles over the years Traditionally, if you were known to have any black ancestors, you were simply considered black Just ask any person of any shade of blackness who tried to go to a white school, live in a white neighbourhood, argue with a white person, eat in a white restaurant, or excuse himself from slavery.Hill uses the Indian Act and all its rules and regulations about who is a status Indian to illustrate that there is no scientific formulae to calculate how black or how indigenous someone is, and also that it isn t really even important It is just society s or a non black or non Indigenous desire to label people and to differentiate them from being white.ConclusionAs indicated earlier, this book is part memoir, part essays and loosely integrated It is also jam packed full of information and stories not all closely related There s so much information, it s very difficult to tie it all together but I give Lawrence kudos for trying His delineation into an introduction, conclusion and 3 parts in between organizes the material somewhat In spite the disparity of topics and loose organization, I quite enjoyed the book and learned a lot about Lawrence as a person and about being black and or biracial in Canada Lawrence writes with a great deal of humour and some self deprecation He also expresses opinions very directly with no holds barred and shares a great deal about himself and his thoughts in this book His willingness to be open and vulnerable endeared him to me Similarly, his honesty and intellect make me respect him evenThere s so much in it, I will likely reread again, not something I usually do I understand why Black Berry, Sweet Juice by Lawrence Hill is considered by CBC Books as 1 of the Top 100 True Stories that Make You Proud to be Canadian Canadians could use a littlerealism in evaluating racism in Canada As Hill demonstrates in this book, racism has existed in Canada for a while and continues to exist today Why not learnabout this topic from a Canadian writing master who shares his experience and knowledge in a non threatening, intelligent and thoughtful way Black Berry, Sweet Juice is a highly recommended read 4 stars

  5. Kezza Loudoun says:

    For all those who want to understand what s it s been like for aperson like me of mixed race, READ THIS You ll have a much better grasp of the subtle racism and bull shit biracial folks deal with on a day to day basis And he s Canadian.

  6. Jenna (Falling Letters) says:

    Review originally published 24 January 2017 at Falling Letters.Mom and I had tried reading two novels about Ireland for this month s Family Reads Unfortunately, we found both novels to be incredibly dull I asked Mom if there were any books by authors she liked that she hadn t yet read That s how we ended up on Lawrence Hill s page Mom has read and enjoyedThe Book of Negroes, The Illegal andBloodI knew virtually nothing about growing up biracial in Canada Thus, we chose Black Berry Review originally published 24 January 2017 at Falling Letters.Mom and I had tried reading two novels about Ireland for this month s Family Reads Unfortunately, we found both novels to be incredibly dull I asked Mom if there were any books by authors she liked that she hadn t yet read That s how we ended up on Lawrence Hill s page Mom has read and enjoyedThe Book of Negroes, The Illegal andBloodI knew virtually nothing about growing up biracial in Canada Thus, we chose Black Berry, Sweet Juice for our January Family Read.Hill explores how one s personal identity can differ from the external identity thrust upon them by those looking at them from the outside Hill writes about how people are judged by their skin colour as to what their identity is But that, of course, is a dangerous and often wrong assumption to make A person s internal understanding of their identity might not have anything to do with their skin colour.Hill s book was an eye opener for Mom and I We are White in every direction I can see on the family tree We ve never had to think about the possible discord between our identities and our skin colours We ve never had to think, Oh, I m White, I need to make a concentrated effort to connect with the White community, learn about my cultural identity, etc We are just that way, we are just White and we don t have to do anything in particular to confirm that In contrast, Hill and the people he interviews have all had to give conscious consideration, in one way or another, to their racial cultural identity.Hill writes about a brewing interest in my racial identity 64 This quote stuck out to me, as I ve never had to brew an interest in my racial identity Mom and I can t fathom what it must be like to have to actively learn about racial identity, cultural history, etc Mom pointed out that she has never considered herself German Canadian her father came to Canada when he was 19 years old She has never had to assert that aspect of her identity or consider it in the way that biracial Canadians do She and I have never had to choose to be White, i.e choose to fit in with that community that s the White privilege we have.The QuestionTowards the end of the book, Hill presents an imaginary dialogue of the race question, an infamously pervasive question in Canada and similar countries, I imagine STRANGER Do you mind my asking where you are from This is code for What is your race ME Canada This is code for Screw off STRANGER Yes, but you know, where are you really from This is code for You know what I mean, so why are you trying to make me come out and say it ME I come from the foreign and distant metropolis of Newmarket That s Newmarket, Ontario My place of birth Code for I m not letting you off the4 hook, buster STRANGER But your place of origin Your parents What are your parents Code for I want to know your race, but this is making me very uncomfortable because somehow I feel that I m not supposed to ask that question Mom and I discussed how that question, Where are you from , takes on a completely different tone depending on who it is presented to If someone asks us my White Mom or I where are you from, we generally know they mean it literally If they want to know our family background, they ask directly It s not a challenge usually it s just polite conversation Rarely is that question asked of a person of colour for the sake of polite conversation As Hill notes, it becomes a challenge to a person s Canadian identity 177 Part of our White privilege is never having people challenge our Canadian identities.Hill s stories about growing up biracial added another dimension to his exploration of race, as we had not considered the identity struggles a biracial child may experience Mom told me about a friend with a biracial daughter Mom had never considered that that child may have difficult time growing up because of the different racial identities of her parents.We appreciated that Hill includes interviews with a number of other Black White biracial Canadians Sharing various points of views shows that everyone s situation can be different There is no one size fits all answer to the question of how to manage a biracial identity Black Berry, Sweet Juice really hits home that a single voice cannot an entire community represent Nearly all interviewees, however, understand they will almost always struggle with being defined against Whiteness Because White people do not consider biracial people to be White, they cannot find acceptance in those communities like they may find acceptance in Black communities For many people with one black and one white parent, it appears to hurtwhen we are rejected by the black community than when we are discriminated against in the wider community for being black 106 When white people look at you, they re never going to see white They re always going to see black Therefore you re black 110 Mom and I both learned a lot from this book We highly recommend it, especially to White people who, like us, had never really considered how the experiences of biracial people may differ from those who are all Black or all White

  7. Alexis says:

    Second time reading this Got so many different things out of it this time.

  8. Rainey says:

    Loved this book Totally related to a lot of things.

  9. Colleen says:

    All white Canadians should read this book In fact all white people should read this book.

  10. Mike says:

    I happened to read this just as the news about the outcome of the Colten Boushie case was breaking, and it feels particularly poignant right now Boushie was a 22 year old indigenous man who was shot in the back of the head by a white farmer named Gerald Stanley Boushie and his friends drove onto Stanley s property either to seek help for a flat tire, or to steal a truck depending on whose version of events you believe Boushie was asleep in the back of the car when Stanley and his son hit the I happened to read this just as the news about the outcome of the Colten Boushie case was breaking, and it feels particularly poignant right now Boushie was a 22 year old indigenous man who was shot in the back of the head by a white farmer named Gerald Stanley Boushie and his friends drove onto Stanley s property either to seek help for a flat tire, or to steal a truck depending on whose version of events you believe Boushie was asleep in the back of the car when Stanley and his son hit the windshield with a baseball bat and knocked out one of the rear tail lights Stanley then got a handgun from inside and fired it twice, either trying to shoot the kids in the car or firing warning shots into the air, again depending on who you believe Stanley then claims he was reaching into the car to take the keys from the ignition when the gun, which he thought was out of ammunition, went off in his hand, shooting Boushie point blank in the back of the head Stanley and his family then went inside their house, made a pot of coffee and calmly waited for police to arrive, apparently unconcerned about the young man Gerald had just murdered accidentally or otherwise in their driveway.Race was not discussed in the courtroom, although lawyers from the defense managed to remove all indigenous people from the jury The all white jury cleared Stanley completely, failing even to charge him with manslaughter Many people are still commenting on news articles that they don t believe race was a factor or needs to be considered in the case.I m struck that this is exactly what Hill was talking about throughout much of this book Canada s total reluctance to even acknowledge race as an issue I found this book very enlightening and interesting Hill questions the very concept of race as anything other than a social construct, and examines the ways in which people have chosen or been forced to adopt certain racial identities throughout North American history My own racial background, for what it s worth, is entirely white I try to seek out books like this one to help me understand something about the feelings and experiences of people with different backgrounds, and I m continually struck by how na ve I really am about those experiences In particular I found the discussion of the feelings of the black women Hill interviewed regarding mixed race relationships very interesting and enlightening Worthwhile and important reading for Canadians who don t believe racism is as much of a problem here as it is for our neighbors down South Particularly in the current political moment, I would recommend this book to almost anyone