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Callaloo 24.4 (2001) 991-992
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An African/american In Paris
Variations on a Theme on the publication of the French translation of The Black Notebooks
An African man tells me
he didn't know he was black
until he got to Europe--
in Africa no one is black
because everyone is the same.
But he's not black, he says,
he's a "zebra" (the son of
griots whose lineage goes
back to the 13th century,
who's lived in Paris for forty years).
A dark woman who's
lived in Paris all her life,
& whose parents were born
Noire, la couleur de ma peau blanche
(the title of my translated book), she's
the opposite of me, Blanche, la couleur de ma peau Noire--black
but her insides.
An African-American woman
says in the States she wouldn't look
in a mirror--she thought she was
ugly. Here, she married a white man
& sometimes, while he was shaving,
she'd peek at herself. Now,
after many years, she can do it
& she thinks she is beautiful. [End Page 991]
A black man married to a white
woman for twenty-five years asked her
if she was--as I had said about my husband
in The Black Notebooks--repulsed
by his blackness. She thought a long
time & said no not by his
blackness but because he was a man.
His grandmother (who,
when she was one hundred years old, had left his grandfather
to go and find her brother in Haiti),
controlled Paris shopkeepers
in the most elegant neighborhoods
all her life in Creole (she never changed
so they had to)
speaking only patois to do business.
In patois she'd say
to her grandson,
"My head hurts," never
"It hurts" or "I hurt."
She never confused
with the self, he said.
Toi Derricotte is author of four books of poetry and a memoir, The Black Notebooks. The Black Notebooks won the Annisfield-Wolf Award in nonfiction and the nonfiction award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association in 1997. Her latest book of poems, Tender, won the Paterson Poetry Prize in 1998. She is co-founder (with Cornelius Eady) of Cave Canem, the first workshop for African-American poets.