Off-white: A Memoir
Laurie Gunst is the youngest child of a well-to-do southern family of German-Jewish descent. Her primary source of care and love is Rhoda, a woman who had been her grandmotherís maid. Summoned from New York City to Richmond, Virginia, childless Rhoda had taken charge of the new baby and raised her.
The intimate relationship between caregiver and child is strong. So is Laurieís shame at aspects of her familyís racially intolerant past: An ancestor fought for the South in the Civil War and another cooperated with the Ku Klux Klan in fomenting a race riot. As a vulnerable child, she witnesses firsthand the unfairness of segregation that consigns the woman who cares for her to a lesser status. Laurieís outrage at racial discrimination sets her apart from other white southerners, even her father. Love for Rhoda marks Laurie indelibly. Their relationship enables her to see the person and not just the color of her skin. Ultimately, she acknowledges Rhoda as a spiritual mother who shaped her life as much as her biological mother.
Laurie Gunstwas born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, with summers in Wilmington, North Carolina. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of New Hampshire and a PhD from Harvard University. She is the author ofBorn Fií Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld, published by Holt in 1996. She now teaches a course on race relations at The New School in New York City, where she lives with her husband.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
A coming-of-age (and then some) memoir of growing up in Richmond, Virginia. It is an interesting multi-cultural story in a place I donít think of as particularly open-minded or worldly (said with apologies to the people of Richmond). From a Jewish family, Laurie feels like an outsider to start with. But through the woman who helps raise her, she connects with the African-American community . Laurie weaves a story of how that connection carries forward through much of her life.
OFF-WHITEUser Review - Book Verdict
The product of a wealthy Southern Jewish family, raised by black women in Jim Crow Virginia, Gunst (Born Fi' Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld ) wryly articulates her lifelong struggle with identity, belonging, and racial history by designating herself "off-white." Gunst was profoundly influenced by Rhoda Lloyd, whom she first encountered as her grandmother's maid. Lloyd went on to care for Gunst as a child, effectively raising her. "More than a mother," Rhoda Lloyd became the rock-steady figure in Gunst's checkered life: Gunst's parents' marriage was troubled, their relationships with their children marginally functional. One great-grandfather used political power to an ignoble end, her grandparents' story includes a scandalous tragedy, and her own history is riddled with drugs and abandoned lovers. All of this is juicy material but in a way serves merely as additional exposition around the central story of Gunst and Rhoda--which the author tacitly acknowledges by sometimes abruptly dropping narratives (her fascination with cocaine, a Jamaican love affair). Although choppily presented, Gunst's soul-baring scrutiny of a complicated interracial relationship is compelling, and the coda, in which she searches out Rhoda's kin, is deeply satisfying. Recommended.--Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington Libs., OH