• Beth Pandolpho

"The Other Black Girl" by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

One of the things I love about reading is when authors share insights that you otherwise might not have access to in real life - oftentimes as a result of the fact that we surround ourselves with people that are very similar to us. I am grateful to this book for inviting me into the minds and hearts of characters unlike anyone I've ever met. I like to believe that if we begin to develop a better understanding of people who are different than we are through books and stories, it might help us to make more meaningful, diverse connections in our everyday lives.


In the novel, Nella, a black, female, editorial assistant shares her insight with a white male author about his narrow portrayal of a black female character. She is asked to give her honest feedback, and in offering it, she is accused of calling the author a racist. Very quickly, the conversation turns from what should be a focus on the likelihood that a black female has valuable insight about a black female character to a singular focus on the author's injured feelings. Her boss suggests that she apologizes, and as she contemplates the injustice of having to deliver this apology, she decides to play a video from a YouTuber named Jesse who she admires because he is someone who boldly expresses his feelings on the Black experience. She describes him by saying that sometimes "he made so much sense it hurt." In the video, which is on the subject of apologies, he says, "Tell me, please, what on god's green earth do you want from us? 'I'm sorry my skin's so black, my hair's so thick'? 'I'm sorry you've been killing my people for generations - gen-er-a tions- people - and the Black people you haven't killed, you've left financially debilitated, without any wealth to pass along to their children'? 'I'm sorry you brought my ancestors over on those ships and forced me to live with your people'?


I have so many thoughts here - the first being that I'm angry that Nella is expected to apologize because her boss is requiring her to do so - especially since what she said is honest, accurate, and important. And yet, since she offended someone with money and power, she should take back what she said.


I still need to read further to find out how Nella decides to handle this, and whether she can somehow both honor her boss' request as well as preserve her own integrity. It seems impossible, and I am furious about all of the barriers in Nella's way when she is in such close proximity to becoming who she wants to be in the world.


The fact is not lost on me that Nella's story is so many people's story.


**I've since finished this book, and at the time of my writing this post, I clearly had no idea where this novel was going to take me. I don't want to give anything away, but I'm hoping for a sequel because I'm still reeling from the ending.



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