[REVIEW] Black Indian, by Shonda Buchanan

(Find it HERE.)

Why don’t I like this book? ⠀⠀

I really wanted to. It’s a memoir of the author’s multiracial family, who were coded Black by American caste norms but felt culturally closer to their Choctaw and Coharie Indigenous ancestors who purchased and integrated African slaves, then expelled their mixed descendants in a bid to gain federal registration and recognition from white politicians. The historical bits of this book lyrically acknowledge the rarely explored (and not always positive) connections between Black and Indigenous people in the Americas. Buchanan is primarily a poet and there’s a lot of craft on display here–she has a finely developed voice and I’m curious about her poetry after reading her memoir. ⠀⠀

Despite that, I did not enjoy this book. The family struggles with abuse, addiction, and tragedy to a numbing extent, and there are no bright spots whatsoever in their sadness. Everyone is mean, vicious, and almost feral in the way they interact with each other and the world. This is a visceral, uncomfortable book that never for a moment lets you forget that the world is full of pain and sorrow, and even small joys are easily corrupted. Slavery and colonization are blamed but not interrogated. They’re just on sad, painful constant display, droning Look at what happened to us. See how it’s still happening? We are our trauma. We are our pain. That’s all we really are.⠀⠀

Speaking of which, the way that the author speaks of culture didn’t quite gel for me. She uses the outdated term “Indians” for herself and others throughout–at first, I thought it was because the book was older but nope, it was published in 2019, so what gives? She also uses the term RedBlack which…well, maybe I’m missing something but my first reaction to that term was to mentally gag. While the trauma in this book is deep, the culture is shallow. Blackness is Motown, “good hair”, colorism and brutality. Indigenous culture in this book is a mishmash of sweat lodges, the Trail of Tears, “good hair” and a social club of Afro-Indigenous people (who are the only really bright spot in the book and actually seem a little out of place as a result). All of this is sprinkled with a finely powdered bitterness that I think comes from the author’s search for healing and belonging in the midst of all this constant trauma display. ⠀

The premise and history here are important but this wasn’t recommendable at all. And I’ll be very honest–I really had to sit with myself for a while after reading this. Did I dislike it because the unvarnished trauma made me uncomfortable? Or because the implications of slavery, colonization, genocide, and infighting for legitimacy and cultural power between oppressed peoples bothered me, and my preconceived notions of Afro-Indigenous relations? Am I being unfair to this book because of internalized prejudices? Maybe all of the above, maybe none. I am also an American, after all–too soft and too brutal simultaneously. Maybe I’m prejudiced towards unflinching or unfamiliar race trauma narratives despite what I’m always saying on here. Maybe this isn’t my trauma and I should shut up and let this speak to who it’s meant for if it’s not me. All I know for sure is that I’m sorry I bought this, because the sadness and pain outweighed the knowledge and no matter what, RedBlack is hotep-y and still makes me gag mentally.⠀⠀

2 stars to Black Indian

(Yeahh…so while I can’t in good conscience recommend buying this one, beautiful people, I included affiliate links anyway. You can check out a list of more worthwhile(IMHO) titles by Indigenous authors HERE but as always, be aware that any purchases made at links you click from this blog may result in a commission being paid. Peace! )


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