Race and Whiteness: Three works by Jane Lazarre

Jane Lazarre is a widely published novelist and essayist who has spent more than fifty years as a white woman living in an African American family. Married over all these years, she raised two grown sons and is now a grandmother.

Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness, Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons

A powerful meditation on motherhood and racism in America, this is the story of the education of an American woman. Praised by writers from Tillie Olsen to Grace Paley to Alice Walker, this memoir has been taught and read by numerous students and teachers interested in stories of motherhood, African American autobiography, whiteness and American literature. In this widely read and praised memoir, Lazarre recounts the stories of her own life and its transformations through a deeper understanding of the world. From a crucial moment as a mother in which her consciousness is transformed, to comprehending the complexities and history of whiteness, she describes each step of her intellectual and personal journey toward understanding what she calls “the whiteness of whiteness.”

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InheritanceInheritance is a novel of American race history: of relationships between people of different and mixed race heritages, of love, friendship and profound loyalty, and of deep ignorance, violence and hatred. The story moves from from the present time, back to the early 20th century in a Connecticut city, once a stop on the Underground Railroad, then back to the period of Slavery shortly before the Civil War in Maryland, on the western coast of the Chesapeake Bay. The white characters are all connected through a Black family, whose four generations move through the novel. This is a story of our shared inheritance, of what it means, in this nation’s history and present, to be so called “mixed” racially, and what it means within the lives of the people who carry these meanings and questions within themselves.

The voice of the narrator, Samantha Reed, a young woman of mixed American heritages, remembering a dramatic transformation in her identity when she was 16, is reading, writing, learning this history as it has played out in her heritage. A young naive white woman, daughter of a slave holder, becomes a fervent abolitionist. An immigrant Jewish woman falls in love with a black oyster-man while being deeply attracted, in a way she does not understand, to his wife. An Italian American writer considers her devotion to the form of fiction and to the idea of “color blindness” as she encounters the demands of her racially mixed granddaughter for “the truth,” and, later, by a black woman writer of memoir. Inheritance is an American story of how history is not only in our world, but deeply within ourselves.

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Worlds Beyond My Control

Worlds Beyond My ControlIn Worlds Beyond My Control, Lazarre revisits the landscape of her pioneering first book, The Mother Knot, exploring with searing honesty the complexities of motherhood. In this later work, she tackles the emotionally demanding time when separation from children begins. Moving from a traditional narrative style, through the immediacy of a journal, and finally to a direct autobiographical voice, the novel interrogates genre itself while following one woman’s odyssey through a conflicted and confusing world. A white mother of black sons, Julia suddenly finds herself at a loss. One son is leaving home, a beloved child is struck with a serious illness, and throughout the city the dangers of racism’s physical, verbal and emotional violence toward black boys and young men increases daily as her beloved sons make their way through their growing lives. Fearful of crime in a crime-ridden city, learning to be fearful as well of police, Julia feels she is both “stark white and visible,” to her family and “trying to bridge their differences with her voice.”  A writer in danger of losing her words, a mother who fears the loss of control, this is the story of a mother and a writer who learns to accept the limits of her power – the endurance to face a new relationship to husband and sons – to reclaim the power she has always felt in what she names “sex and words.”

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