Danzy Senna The Color Of Love Essay Relationship

Danzy Senna (born 1970) is an American novelist and essayist. Her first work, Caucasia (1998), has been translated into ten languages and has won multiple awards.[1] The winner of a Whiting Award, Senna is the author of three novels, a memoir, and a short-story collection, along with numerous essays centering on issues of gender, race and motherhood. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker,Vogue and the New York Times.[2][3] She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, writer Percival Everett, and her two sons.[4] She currently teaches English at USC Dornsife.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Danzy Senna was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, the middle of three children. Her parents are the white poet Fanny Howe and part-black, part Mexican editor Carl Senna.[6] Senna's work has largely been influenced by her parents' interracial marriage and subsequent divorce in 1976.[7] She divided her time between her mother and father's homes and recalls her father being "determined 'to hammer racial consciousness home to his three light-skinned children.'"[8] Her first novel, Caucasia, won several awards and became required reading for many college courses.[9]

Senna attended and earned her B.A. from Stanford University and earned an MFA in creative writing from University of California, Irvine.



Senna's first novel, Caucasia (1998), received the Book of the Month Club's Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and won the Alex Award from the American Library Association.[10] The novel was also a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was named a Los Angeles Times "Best Book of the Year".[10]Caucasia, a national bestseller, has been translated into ten languages. Caucasia is narrated by a young biracial girl, Birdie Lee, who is taken into the political underground by her mother, and forced to live under an assumed identity. The coming of age story follows Birdie's struggle for identity and her search for the missing parts of her family.[11]


Her second novel, Symptomatic (2004), is a psychological thriller narrated by an unnamed young woman who moves to New York City for what promises to be a dream job – a prestigious fellowship writing for a respected magazine. The narrator feels displaced, however, and is unsure of how she fits into the world around her. She becomes the object of an older woman's attention after they bond over their similarly mixed heritage. As the older woman's interest turns into obsession, the narrator must figure out what their relationship means to her, even as both of their lives seem to spiral out of control.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night?[edit]

As a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers,[12] Senna researched and wrote the autobiographical work, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?: A Personal History (2009). She recounts the story of her parents, who married in 1968. Their marriage was opposed by some family members and friends as the two American writers came from wildly divergent backgrounds. Her mother was a white woman with a blue-blood Bostonian lineage. Her father was a black man, the son of a single mother and an unknown father. When their marriage disintegrated eight years later, one family friend called it “the ugliest divorce in Boston’s history.” Decades later, Senna looked back not only at her parents’ divorce, but at the family histories they tried so hard to overcome. Her often painful journey through the past is epitomized by the question posed to her as a young child by her father: "Don’t you know who I am?".[13]

You Are Free[edit]

Senna's short story collection, You Are Free (2011), was described by Kirkus Review as, "Deft, revealing stories [from] a writer for our time...a fresh, insightful look into being young, smart and biracial in postmillennial America."[14] In the title story, a woman’s strange correspondence with a girl claiming to be her daughter leads her into the doubts and what-ifs of the life she hasn’t lived. In "The Care of the Self," a new mother hosts an old friend, still single, and discovers how each of them pities and envies the other. In the collection's first story, "Admission," tensions arise between a liberal husband and wife after their son is admitted into the elite daycare school to which they’d applied only on a lark.[14][15][16]

New People[edit]

Senna's most recent novel, New People (2017) was described in promotional materials as "a subversive and engrossing novel of race, class and manners in contemporary America."[17]New People tells the story of mixed-race Maria and her fiancé Khalil, who live together in '90s Fort Greene, then populated by black artists and bohemians. The seemingly perfect "King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom" is troubled by Maria's fixation on a black poet she barely knows.[18][19] The novel was in part inspired by Senna's fascination with the Jonestown massacre.[20] Doreen St. Félix writing for the New Yorker praised the novel for making " keen, icy farce of the affectations of the Brooklyn black faux-bohemia."[21]


  • 2017: Dos Passos Prize
  • 2004: Fellow, New York Public Library's Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers
  • 2002: Whiting Award
  • Book of the Month Award for First Fiction (Caucasia)
  • American Library Association's Alex Award (Caucasia)
  • Finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (Caucasia)
  • Listed as a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year (Caucasia)[22]



External links[edit]

Kleeman, Alexandra. "Once Upon a Time in Post-Racial America," New York Times Book Review, Sunday, October 8, 2017. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/06/books/review/danzy-senna-new-people.html)

Sehgal, Parul. "‘New People’ Riffs on Race and Love, With a Twist," August 15, 2017. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/books/review-new-people-danzy-senna.html)

St. Félix, Doreen. "Danzy Senna's New Black Woman," The New Yorker, August 7, 2017 (https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/danzy-sennas-new-black-woman)

Felsenthal, Julia. "Danzy Senna Doesn't Mind if Her New Novel Makes You Uncomfortable," Vogue.com, August 3, 2017 (http://www.vogue.com/article/danzy-senna-new-people)

Press, Joy. "Author Danzy Senna on Finding Inspiration After Leaving Brooklyn," New York Magazine, August 2017 (http://www.vulture.com/2017/07/danzy-senna-on-new-people-and-leaving-brooklyn.html)

Jerkins, Morgan. "The Old Problems of New People," The New Republic, June 22, 2017. (https://newrepublic.com/article/143452/old-problems-new-people)

Bellot, Gabrielle. The Ineradicable Color Line: Danzy Senna's New People," Los Angeles Review of Books, August 1, 2017. (https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-ineradicable-color-line-danzy-sennas-new-people/)

  1. ^http://www.prhspeakers.com/speaker/danzy-senna
  2. ^"Bringing Down Bébé: How One Mother Mistakenly Hoped a Year in Paris Would Transform Her Sons". Vogue. Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  3. ^""Oreo" by Fran Ross Is an Overlooked Classic About Race". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  4. ^"Percival Everett Works Through Ideas...with Fiction". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  5. ^"Danzy Senna > Ph.D. in Creative Writing & Literature > USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences". dornsife.usc.edu. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  6. ^Félix, Doreen St (2017-08-07). "Danzy Senna's New Black Woman". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  7. ^Kaplan, Erin Aubry (2009-06-21). "'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' by Danzy Senna". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  8. ^Press, Joy. "Author Danzy Senna on Finding Inspiration After Leaving Brooklyn". Vulture. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  9. ^"'New People' is a '90s Novel of Love, Identity, and Privilege". ELLE. 2017-08-03. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  10. ^ abPBS Program Club (2003). "Matters of Race: Writer bibliographies". Pbs.org. PBS. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  11. ^"Danzy Senna - Caucasia". danzysenna.com. Retrieved 2015-08-11. 
  12. ^New York Public Library (2012). "Special Invitation: Danzy Senna in conversation with Rebecca Walker". Nypl.org. New York Public Library. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  13. ^Matthews, David (6 August 2009). "Sunday Book Review: Searching for Father". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  14. ^ abSmith, Zadie (September 2011). "New Books: You Are Free". Harper's. Harper's Foundation. 323 (1,936): 73–76. Retrieved 31 May 2012. (subscription required)
  15. ^Rosenwaike, Polly (2011-05-06). "Book Review - You Are Free - By Danzy Senna". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  16. ^Bausch, Richard. "The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction | W. W. Norton & Company". Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  17. ^New People by Danzy Senna | PenguinRandomHouse.com. 
  18. ^"'New People' Riffs on Race and Love, With a Twist". Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  19. ^"'New People' Author Danzy Senna Loves The Troublesome Characters". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  20. ^"In Her Manic New Novel, Danzy Senna Offers an Antihero for the Times". Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  21. ^Félix, Doreen St (2017-08-07). "Danzy Senna's New Black Woman". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  22. ^"Danzy Senna". danzysenna.com. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 

Strange to wake up and realize you're in style. That's what happened to me just the other morning. It was the first day of the new millennium, and I woke to find that mulattos had taken over. They were everywhere. Playing golf, running the airwaves, opening restaurants, modeling clothes, starring in musicals with names like Show Me the Miscegenation! The radio played a steady stream of Lenny Kravitz, Sade, and Mariah Carey. I thought I'd died and gone to Berkeley. But then I realized that, according to the racial zodiac, 2000 is the official Year of the Mulatto. Pure breeds (at least black ones) are out; hybridity is in. America loves us in all of our half-caste glory. The president announced on Friday that beige will be the official color of the millennium.

Before all of this radical ambiguity, I considered myself a black girl. Not your ordinary black girl, if such a thing exists. But rather, a black girl with a WASP mother and black-Mexican father, and a face that harks back to Andalusia, not Africa. I was born in 1970, when black described a people bonded not by shared complexion or hair texture but by shared history.

Not only was I black, but I sneered at those by-products of miscegenation who chose to identify as mixed, not black. I thought it wishy-washy, an act of flagrant assimilation, treason-passing, even. I was an enemy of the mulatto people.

My parents made me this way. In Boston circa 1975, mixed wasn't an option. "A fight, a fight, a nigga and a white!" echoed from schoolyards during recess. You were either white or black. No checking "Other." No halvsies. No in between. Black people, the bottom of Boston's social totem pole, were inevitably the most accepting of difference; they were the only race to come in all colors, and so there I found myself. Sure, I got strange reactions from all quarters when I called myself black. But black people usually got over their initial surprise and welcomed me into the ranks. White folks were the most uncomfortable with the dissonance between the face they saw and the race they didn't. Upon learning who I was, they grew paralyzed with fear that they might have "slipped up" in my presence, that is, said something racist, not knowing there was a Negro in their midst. Often, they had.

Let it be clear—my parents' decision to raise us as black wasn't based on any one-drop-of-blood rule from the days of slavery, and it certainly wasn't based on our appearance, that crude reasoning many black-identified mixed people use: If the world sees me as black, I must be black. If it had been based on appearance, my sister would have been black and my brother Mexican, and I Jewish. Instead, my parents' decision arose out of the black power movement, which made identifying as black not a pseudoscientific rule but a conscious choice. Now that we don't have to anymore, we choose to. Because black is beautiful. Because black is not a burden, but a privilege.

Some might say my parents went too far. I remember my father schooling me and my siblings on our racial identity. He would grill us over a greasy linoleum kitchen table, a single bright lightbulb swinging overhead: "Do you have any black friends? How many? Who?” And we, his obedient children, his soldiers in the battle for negritude, would rattle off the names of the black kids we called friends.

Something must have sunk in, because my sister and I grew up with disdain for those who identified as mulatto. A very particular breed got under my skin: the kind who answered, meekly, "Everything" to that incessant question, "What are you?" I veered away from groups of them-children, like myself, who had been born of interracial minglings after dark. Instead, I surrounded myself with bodies darker than my own, hoping the color might rub off on me.

One year, while working as an investigative journalist in Hollywood, I made up a list, evidence I've long since burned. Luckily for my career, it was never published. It was an exposé of who is passing in Hollywood, called "And You Thought It Was Just a Tan?" There were three categories:

Black Folks You May Not Have Known Are Black

  • Mariah Carey
  • Jennifer Beals
  • Tom Hanks
  • Carly Simon
  • Slash
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Johnny Depp
  • Michael Jackson
  • Kevin Bacon
  • Robin Quivers
  • Elizabeth Berkeley
  • Paula Abdul

Black Folks Who May Not Know They Are Black

  • Mariah Carey
  • Jennifer Beals
  • Tom Hanks
  • Carly Simon
  • Slash
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Johnny Depp
  • Michael Jackson
  • Kevin Bacon
  • Robin Quivers
  • Elizabeth Berkeley
  • Paula Abdul

Black Folks You Kinda Wish Weren’t Black

  • O.J. Simpson
  • Michael Jackson
  • Gary Coleman
  • Robin Quivers

Needless to say, my list wouldn't have gone over too well with the Mulatto Nation posse (M.N. to those in the know). It was nearly published in a local newsweekly, but the editors balked at the last minute. I bet they're thanking their lucky stars now; in this age of fluidity, it doesn't pay to be blacker than thou.

These days, M.N. folks in Washington have their own census category—multiracial—but the extremist wing of the Mulatto Nation finds it inadequate. They want to take things a step further. I guess they have a point. Why lump us all together? Eskimos have 40 different words for snow. In South Africa, during apartheid, they had 14 different types of coloreds. But we've decided on one word, multiracial, to describe a whole nation of diverse people who have absolutely no relation, cultural or otherwise, to one another. In light of this deficiency, I propose the following coinages:

Standard Mulatto: White mother, black father. Half-nappy hair, skin described as "pasty yellow" in winter but turns caramel tan in summer. Germanic-Afro features. Often raised in isolation from others of its kind. Does not discover "black identity" till college, when there is usually some change in hair, clothing, or speech, so that the parents don't recognize the child who arrives home for Christmas vacation ("Honey, there's a black kid at the door").

African American: The most common form of mulatto in North America, this breed, seldom described as mixed, is a combination of African, European, and Native American. May come in any skin tone, from any cultural background. Often believe themselves to be "pure" due to historical distance from the original mixture, which was most often achieved through rape.

Jewlatto: The second most prevalent form, this breed is made in the commingling of Jews and blacks who met when they were registering voters down South during Freedom Summer or at a CORE meeting. Jewlattos often, though not necessarily, have a white father and black mother (as opposed to the more common black father and white mother). They are likely to be raised in a diverse setting (New York City, Berkeley), around others of their kind. Jewlattos are most easily spotted amid the flora and fauna of Brown University. Famous Jewlattos include Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet (and we can't forget Zoe, their love child).

Mestizo: A more complicated mixture: Either the black or the white parent claims a third race (Native American, Latino) in the parent's background and thus confuses the child more. The mestizo is likely to be mistaken for some other, totally distinct ethnicity (Italian, Arab, Mexican, Jewish, East Indian, Native American, Puerto Rican) and in fact will be touted by strangers as a perfect representative of that totally new race ("Your face brings me right back to Calcutta").

Cultural Mulatto: Any American born after 1967.

Blulatto: A highly rare breed of "blue-blooded" mulattos who can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower. Females are legally entitled to membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Blulattos have been spotted in Cambridge and Berkeley but should not be confused with Jewlattos. The Blulatto's mother is almost always the white one, and is either a poet or a painter who disdains her WASP heritage. The father is almost always the black one, is highly educated, and disdains his black heritage.

Cablinasian: An exotic breed found mostly in California, the mother of all mixtures: Asian, American Indian, black, and Caucasian. These show mulattos have great performance skills; they will be whoever the crowd wants them to be, and can switch at the drop of a hat. They do not, however, answer to the name black. If you spot a Cablinasian, contact the Benetton promotions bureau.

Tomatto: A mixed or black person who behaves in an Uncle Tom-ish fashion. The Tomatto may be found in positions of power touted as a symbol of diversity in otherwise all-white settings. Even if the Tomatto has two black parents, his skin is light and his features mixed. If we ever see a first black president, he will most likely be a Tomatto.

Fauxlatto: A person impersonating a mulatto. Can be of white, black, or other heritage, but for inexplicable reasons claims to be of mixed heritage. See Jamiroquai.

The categories could go on and on, and perhaps, indeed, they will. Where do I fit? That's the strange thing. I fit into none and all of the above. I have been each of the above, or at least mistaken for them, at different moments in my life. But somehow, none feels right. Maybe that makes me a Postlatto.

I've learned to flaunt my mixedness at dinner parties, where the guests (most of them white) ooh and aaah about my flavorful background. I've found it's not so bad being a fetishized object, an exotic bird soaring above the racial landscape. And when they start talking about black people, pure breeds, in that way that before the millennium used to make me squirm, I let them know that I'm neutral, nothing to be afraid of. Sometimes I feel it, that remnant of my old self (the angry black girl with the big mouth) creeping out, but most of the time I don't feel anything at all. Most of the time, I just serve up the asparagus, chimichangas, and fried chicken with a bright, white smile.

From the book Half and Half, edited by Claudine O'Hearn. "The Mulatto Millennium," copyright © 1998 by Danzy Senna. Used with permission of Pantheon Books.

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