ON THE BOOKS: Essays explore breed from a mixed perspective
When Savala Nolan was a student at New York University, she worked for an agency that provided household help to affluent families. In her first essay collection “Don’t Let It Get You Down: Essays on Race, Gender and the Body” (Simon & Schuster, $ 26), she writes about her experience as a nanny and her closeness to products costly consumption:
“When I was alone in the houses, I would walk to the master bedrooms and peruse the bedside piles of moms in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, lusting with my fingertips and throat for whatever they could put on their bodies, and jealous of their bodies too, which were worthy of such adornments … It seemed to me deeply unfair that I could appreciate these finery of money, that I understood intuitively how these rich splendors could be medicinal for your body, but that the voyeurism was as close as I. I will experience it myself.
“Sometimes I would be asked to take a run, and I would drive the shiny and heavy cars myself, shop for groceries at Cavaniola’s or pick up the mother’s new Jack Rogers sandals, pretending I was living my own life, pretending that spectators saw me not as who I was, but who I almost was, who I had the potential to be. “
That’s an interesting reflection, given who Nolan is: executive director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, which focuses on “the intersection of law and law. social justice with a focus on race and gender. ”In 2010, she worked in the Obama administration’s White House legal counsel, preparing research papers on constitutional issues.
But as the above passage shows, “Don’t Let It Get You Down” is not the kind of book one would expect from a discerning political scholar. The 12 essays are fiercely personal, even denominational, less concerned with the collective than its own origin story, which is both unique and reassuring.
“My name is in between,” she writes on her website. “Black / white / afrolatina. Descendant of slaves and slave owners. Daughter of the American Revolution. A lawyer and a child who saw drugs being sold to pay bills. A chronically dieter (fat / thin / thin / fat etc) Private education in tony schools, and a family deeply impacted by the prison state I live in liminal spaces, with multivalent perspectives and double consciousness. write about dominant groups and subordinate groups, about norms, rules and everyday America.life as an insider and an outsider at the same time. I write to create counter-narratives, to respond to my own questions, to speak for other liminal people, and to explore the mysteries and realities of race, gender, and life in a human body at this time. “
Her mixed-race father (black and Mexican) was poor – “so poor that we went to the toilet in buckets under a hole in the ceiling repaired with a tarp,” she writes. She visited him.
She lived with her mother, white, “thin and frail, like a glass of skimmed milk”. His ancestors owned slaves. She went to private schools; she was expected to go on to graduate school. She grew up in Marin County. She met a lot of rich white women long before she worked for them.
Savala Nolan (Photograph by Andria Lo)
But she too, as a little girl reminds her, knew Black.
Like when the white lady with “curly red hair … tall and bony with a broad smile from Julia Roberts” assumed she was from the Marin City public housing project when Nolan told her she was “from Marin “.
If you read Nolan, you will probably like it. She is witty and gently self-deprecating, well placed to question the flaws in our culture. In “On Dating White Guys While Me,” she admits and dissects her desire to gain the attention of white men, a sentiment some black gay writers have explored. She understands that there might be something pragmatic about it: “I had long felt that the most succinct and compelling way to evolve in the world was to be loved by a prototype white man. . “
But the white man she marries is nobody’s prototype.
“I resist seeing its whiteness as a price, however,” she wrote. “Part of that is because he’s not shiny, preppy, and silvery in terms of social capital.” When she met him, he was working at a GM factory and “was eating Pop-Tarts and drinking a can of Coke for breakfast.” He was a high school dropout. He worked on cars and drove motorcycles.
It bothered her a bit.
Nolan’s book is very much like a youth book, more like a mission of self-discovery than a declaration of discoveries. She is a courageous writer, even if she is not always very nuanced. Yet she understands that while she may present herself to some as one stereotype or another, she is privileged by both faculty and point of view.
Savala Nolan contains multitudes and is ready to ask questions that she cannot comfortably answer. That alone makes this slim book of essays worthy of our time.
E-mail: [email protected] | sangditangels.com