Written in 1929, The Blacker The Berry was a shocking novel in that it exposed, for the first time, the existence of racism with the black community. The main character, Emma Lou Brown, is a dark-skinned woman who struggles to find acceptance in a black community that prizes lighter colored skin tones. Leaving her home town in Idaho, Emma admits that she was the only black student in her high school. She hopes that her new collegiate life in Los Angeles will help her to find new friends, but instead she is shunned by fellow black students because of her very dark color. Simultaneously, she herself rejects those students whom she deems “not of her class” – ie, southern blacks who come to the school in order to better themselves.
As the novel continues, Emma Lou leaves California for New York City and the birth of the Harlem renaissance. Things aren’t much better here. The only job available to her is that of a maid, even though she has a college education and is able to do secretarial work. Apparently lighter skinned girls are preferred for those positions. She finds the same thing happens with finding a place a live and even in her personal relationships. But again, Emma Lou also perpetuates the discriminatory attitudes with biases of her own.
Like many “breakthrough” novels, this one was important, but not very well-written nor very interesting. Luckily it was very short.
2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1929