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Interrogating our ideas of race through the lens of her own multi-racial identity, critically acclaimed novelist Tessa McWatt turns her eye on herself, her body and this world in a powerful new work of non-fiction. Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas and "black bitch," and has been judged not black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. No Interrogating our ideas of race through the lens of her own multi-racial identity, critically acclaimed novelist Tessa McWatt turns her eye on herself, her body and this world in a powerful new work of non-fiction. Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas and "black bitch," and has been judged not black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. Now, through a close examination of her own body--nose, lips, hair, skin, eyes, ass, bones and blood--which holds up a mirror to the way culture reads all bodies, she asks why we persist in thinking in terms of race today when racism is killing us. Her grandmother's family fled southern China for British Guiana after her great uncle was shot in his own dentist's chair during the First Sino-Japanese War. McWatt is made of this woman and more: those who arrived in British Guiana from India as indentured labour and those who were brought from Africa as cargo to work on the sugar plantations; colonists and those whom colonialism displaced. How do you tick a box on a census form or job application when your ancestry is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese? How do you finally answer a question first posed to you in grade school: "What are you?" And where do you find a sense of belonging in a supposedly "post-racial" world where shadism, fear of blackness, identity politics and call-out culture vie with each other noisily, relentlessly and still lethally? Shame on Me is a personal and powerful exploration of history and identity, colour and desire from a writer who, having been plagued with confusion about her race all her life, has at last found kinship and solidarity in story.


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Interrogating our ideas of race through the lens of her own multi-racial identity, critically acclaimed novelist Tessa McWatt turns her eye on herself, her body and this world in a powerful new work of non-fiction. Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas and "black bitch," and has been judged not black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. No Interrogating our ideas of race through the lens of her own multi-racial identity, critically acclaimed novelist Tessa McWatt turns her eye on herself, her body and this world in a powerful new work of non-fiction. Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas and "black bitch," and has been judged not black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. Now, through a close examination of her own body--nose, lips, hair, skin, eyes, ass, bones and blood--which holds up a mirror to the way culture reads all bodies, she asks why we persist in thinking in terms of race today when racism is killing us. Her grandmother's family fled southern China for British Guiana after her great uncle was shot in his own dentist's chair during the First Sino-Japanese War. McWatt is made of this woman and more: those who arrived in British Guiana from India as indentured labour and those who were brought from Africa as cargo to work on the sugar plantations; colonists and those whom colonialism displaced. How do you tick a box on a census form or job application when your ancestry is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese? How do you finally answer a question first posed to you in grade school: "What are you?" And where do you find a sense of belonging in a supposedly "post-racial" world where shadism, fear of blackness, identity politics and call-out culture vie with each other noisily, relentlessly and still lethally? Shame on Me is a personal and powerful exploration of history and identity, colour and desire from a writer who, having been plagued with confusion about her race all her life, has at last found kinship and solidarity in story.

30 review for Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.75) “What are you?” This is the question that has haunted McWatt ever since she was eight years old. When her third-grade teacher asked the class if they knew what “Negro” meant, one boy pointed to her. “Oh, no, not Tessa,” the teacher replied, following up with a question: “What are you, Tessa?” But it has always been hard to put her mixed-race background into one word. Her family moved from Guyana to Canada and she has since settled in England, where she is a professor of creative writing; (3.75) “What are you?” This is the question that has haunted McWatt ever since she was eight years old. When her third-grade teacher asked the class if they knew what “Negro” meant, one boy pointed to her. “Oh, no, not Tessa,” the teacher replied, following up with a question: “What are you, Tessa?” But it has always been hard to put her mixed-race background into one word. Her family moved from Guyana to Canada and she has since settled in England, where she is a professor of creative writing; her ancestry is somewhat uncertain but may include Chinese, Indian, indigenous South American, Portuguese, French/Jewish, African, and Scottish. The book opens with the startling scene of her grandmother, a young Chinese woman brought over to work the sugarcane fields of British Guiana, being raped by her own uncle. “To strangers, even friends—on some days also to myself—I am images of violence and oppression. I am the language of shame and destitution, of slavery and indenture, of rape and murder. I am images of power and privilege, of denial and shades of skin, shapes of faces,” McWatt writes. Her investigation of the meaning of race takes the form of an academic paper, Hypothesis–Experiment–Analysis–Findings, and within the long third section she goes part by part through the bodily features that have most often been used as markers of racial identity, including the nose, eyes, hair and buttocks. She dives into family history but also into wider historical movements, literature and science to understand her hybrid self. It’s an inventive and sensitive work reminiscent of The Color of Water by James McBride. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading (or feels they should try) interrogations of race. A favorite line: “as I try to square my politics with my privilege, it seems that my only true inheritance is that I am always running somewhere else.” Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck. I won a signed proof copy in a Twitter giveaway.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nami

    Structured like a science experiment, moving from hypothesis through to body (labelled under literal body parts) and findings, Tessa McWatt creates a piece of incredibly valuable literature on race that leaves no dark corners. It’s evident through her writing that she’s not afraid of depth. Not in her heart shattering childhood anecdotes, to stories of her ancestors - both real and imagined - to her current experiences as an interracial woman. And yet she is careful to not place herself at the c Structured like a science experiment, moving from hypothesis through to body (labelled under literal body parts) and findings, Tessa McWatt creates a piece of incredibly valuable literature on race that leaves no dark corners. It’s evident through her writing that she’s not afraid of depth. Not in her heart shattering childhood anecdotes, to stories of her ancestors - both real and imagined - to her current experiences as an interracial woman. And yet she is careful to not place herself at the centre of this narrative on race, acknowledging many others who have suffered, and continue to do so. This book sparked an interest in me in my own history that I hadn’t considered before, taking the question “who am I?” beyond just myself. Who lives in the shape of my lips? The shade of my skin? To say no man is an island but then to feel it, that is a moving experience. McWatt is what I define a solid author to be in their writing; educated, emotional, and undeniably talented.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kier Scrivener

    "An orphan is one without continuity." This is a book everyone should read. Especially every Canadian. It is the memoir of Guyanese Canadian Tessa McWatt. If you are like me and not that familiar with Guyana other than it is a South American country that speaks English. Here's the rundown it is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Tessa has ancestors who are Indigenous (Amerindian), African, Indian/South Asian, Chinese, Jewish, Scottish and Portuguese. This lead to the question of "An orphan is one without continuity." This is a book everyone should read. Especially every Canadian. It is the memoir of Guyanese Canadian Tessa McWatt. If you are like me and not that familiar with Guyana other than it is a South American country that speaks English. Here's the rundown it is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Tessa has ancestors who are Indigenous (Amerindian), African, Indian/South Asian, Chinese, Jewish, Scottish and Portuguese. This lead to the question of 'what am I?" and "Who am I?" To some she is Black, to some she is Indigenous,to some she is Latinx, to some she is Asian, to some she is Indian. But ancestry is not identity, though her features allow her privilege and discrimination depending where she is. She tells the history of her lineage, the story of discrimination, of colourism, Canadian's hidden history against minorities, the laws that say "we prefer immigrants from traditional sources' when building our infrastructure on the sweat of those we taxed to entre our country. Those we put in internment camps. Those we stole land from and killed. Those whose dehumanization made us wealthy. But this book is not written for a white audience, it written for those who understand the weight of what history begot. Who still are affected by the lingering effects of plantations, segregation, racism. It is anatomy of her body and features, of her ancestry and of history. It is powerful. It is important. Quotes: "To strangers, even friends—on some days also to myself—I am images of violence and oppression. I am the language of shame and destitution, of slavery and indenture, of rape and murder. I am images of power and privilege, of denial and shades of skin, shapes of faces.” "Identification is not identity. Shared traits do not equal shared identity. My identity has been fluid as I move back and forth across the Atlantic, back and forth between art and institution, between screen and page, between past and present." “as I try to square my politics with my privilege, it seems that my only true inheritance is that I am always running somewhere else.” "If we pay attention to language and its power - if we understand that shame buries our anger but also our compassion and makes us retreat from one another - there is a way forward. A new path." "It's time for disobedience. For action. ... In our dispossession and our rage, we need to ask different questions. The single most powerful tool we have the our language and its ability to reinvent realities. We can talk and listen, undergo a collective psychoanalysis that sees us uncovering all that is difficult to know: the sources of shame and how we might move on from them."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Heather Semotiuk

    Tessa McWatt's memoir explores how systemic racism is internalized and leads to mental health challenges for people of colour. McWatt is Canadian, lives in London, but was born in Guyana and has a family ancestors from China, India, France, Scotland, and Africa. It was really interesting and moving to learn about Guyana's history, and how colonialism, racism have impacted her family and herself. I wondered about how to rate this book, and ultimately chose not to. The book wasn't as gripping as s Tessa McWatt's memoir explores how systemic racism is internalized and leads to mental health challenges for people of colour. McWatt is Canadian, lives in London, but was born in Guyana and has a family ancestors from China, India, France, Scotland, and Africa. It was really interesting and moving to learn about Guyana's history, and how colonialism, racism have impacted her family and herself. I wondered about how to rate this book, and ultimately chose not to. The book wasn't as gripping as some others I've read this year on similar topics / experiences (Desmond Cole's book, for example; or Alicia Elliott's A Mind Spread out on the Ground); but it feels mean and wrong to judge such a very personal memoir. I've glad this book was published, and while I learned from it, I suspect that other people will be more profoundly moved by it. So no rating it is!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jugal

    This was really good! Esp if you've thought about how far socially constructed groupings can extend to individual identity. Loved how she wrote it. This was really good! Esp if you've thought about how far socially constructed groupings can extend to individual identity. Loved how she wrote it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mai Nguyễn

    "I hold on to the image of my Indian ancestor squatting not because I don't trust the science of DNA, but because it doesn't account for all the songs or symphonies we are, or for literature, or for out of body experiences, for my father in the birds, my mother's awe of the trees, for the perfection of being in the right life, the right body." How can you not love a book if it has a passage like the above, and many more. "Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging" is an honest, thought-provoki "I hold on to the image of my Indian ancestor squatting not because I don't trust the science of DNA, but because it doesn't account for all the songs or symphonies we are, or for literature, or for out of body experiences, for my father in the birds, my mother's awe of the trees, for the perfection of being in the right life, the right body." How can you not love a book if it has a passage like the above, and many more. "Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging" is an honest, thought-provoking reflection of race, identity and what it means to be human. Reading this book, I feel like I am having conversation with a friend. I wanted to dash through this book, to see how the author overcame many hurdles to become the successful author she is today, but I had to stop myself and read slowly, because this work deserves to be savored. Each word has been written with care, and so much pain and love that it etches itself onto me. "Shame on Me" will stay with me for a long time because it requires me to look deep into my own heritage and acknowledge the many things I have tried to to hide from myself, for many years now. A highly recommended read!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    A teacher singles out eight year old Tessa McWatt with the question "what are you?" The class has just been asked if they know what 'Negro' means and a young boy turned to point at Tessa. Tessa feels ashamed and embarrassed but doesn't understand why. How can something as complex as family history be condensed to a one-word answer? Shame on Me is such a fascinating reflection on race, belonging and identity. It is deeply personal- part memoir and part examination of racial issues. The chapter he A teacher singles out eight year old Tessa McWatt with the question "what are you?" The class has just been asked if they know what 'Negro' means and a young boy turned to point at Tessa. Tessa feels ashamed and embarrassed but doesn't understand why. How can something as complex as family history be condensed to a one-word answer? Shame on Me is such a fascinating reflection on race, belonging and identity. It is deeply personal- part memoir and part examination of racial issues. The chapter headings are human anatomy based and are used as a way to 'dissect' race and McWatt's experiences with it. She uses personal stories and wider historical writings on slavery and movements against racism. All of this makes such an interesting book that I loved reading. She writes wonderfully and combines her stories with her reflections and observations on racial identity effortlessly. I'd love to come back to this another time because it really was enjoyable.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Klassen

    4.5 stars Shame on Me is a poetic exploration into selfhood, mixed-race identity, and belonging. From a young age, McWatt is asked “What are you?” as if she is a science experiment of mixed chemicals instead of a blend of histories and ancestors. She spits in a tube to find out the genetic make up of her background though her family stories alone tell her that she has blood relatives of Chinese, Indian, South American Indigenous, Portuguese, French Jewish, African, and Scottish heritage. This spa 4.5 stars Shame on Me is a poetic exploration into selfhood, mixed-race identity, and belonging. From a young age, McWatt is asked “What are you?” as if she is a science experiment of mixed chemicals instead of a blend of histories and ancestors. She spits in a tube to find out the genetic make up of her background though her family stories alone tell her that she has blood relatives of Chinese, Indian, South American Indigenous, Portuguese, French Jewish, African, and Scottish heritage. This spare memoir is split into chapters that dissect human features that have been racialised over the centuries. Her eyes tell stories of her Chinese relative who spent her life running. She speaks to the history of racializing people based on hair, skin, blood, etc. as she struggles to find a place where she truly fits, truly belongs though she does not fit neatly into any of the boxes society has created for race. Internalized racism runs deep in her family and she struggles to claim every part of her equally. To not value some of her ancestry over others. She sees her family's history in the shape of her lips, the texture of her hair, the childhood photos that she pores over trying to see the humanity in the faces of patriarchs and matriarchs. She seeks connection to the past to help her understand herself. For those interested in memoirs, critical race theory, mixed-race studies, the history of race and colonization throughout the world, you will love Shame on Me. Some of my favourite quotes below, but this is only a small sampling. My copy is full of flags and underlinings; it was a delight to read her words. She expressed sophisticated ideas through the spare, beautiful, profound language. I'm going to share a few of the MANY passages I underlined. This book is moving in every sense. "It's my African ancestor...on whom I focus my imagination....hers is a story that has been buried deepest, most painfully ignored. Hers is the story that bears such deep shame that it has been erased. But the body is a site of memory. If race is made by erecting borders, my body is a crossing, a hybrid many times over. My black and white and brown and yellow and red body is stateless, is chaos. Her body is stolen territory. I am the result of the movement of bodies on ships: as captains, as cargo, as indentured servants, as people full of hope for a change of survival." "My ancestry centres on one crop: sugar. My history pulses with moments of miscegenation, a hybridity that eludes any bid I am asked to tick on census papers or job applications. I am a song of sugar." "I am a product of the east and west, north and south. These stories relieve me of the pain of belonging nowhere and give me the key to everywhere. As I once longed for a singular place, a singular ethnicity or plot of land over generations, I now long for its opposite, for a space beyond belonging. I have travelled to many places in order to scope a sense of ownership or repatriation, but as I try to square my politics with my privilege, it seems that my only true inheritance is that I am always running somewhere else." "Blood brothers, in the blood, to sign your name in blood, in cold blood, bad blood, blue blood, blood guess, blood on your hands, blood and thunder: our relationship to blood is pervasive in language, in symbols, in fear and horror, in blood baths as societies oppose one another. Blood runs through us and warns us. In my anger over inequality I have become more and more hot-blooded. Perhaps this is progress." "My youngest niece has wild, thick, tight curls that she has tamed in response to being the only black girl at an all-white high school. My eldest nephew is tall and lanky, big-boned, Viking-like, but with a face much like my Chinese grandmother's. As I listen, I catch myself thinking in these ethnic terms and feel ashamed. I have assigned body parts to regional definitions, and I am in the same trap of genes and ethnicity that I want others to escape." "'What is race?' I say. He shrugs.'Okay, what race are you?' He looks at me briefly, then back at his phone and shrugs again. I feel guilty, forcing him to think about something he hasn't had to consider. When my brother prods him for an answer, he says, 'Everything.'" "The main thing I want to tell the young people in my life around race is that the reparations my white self needs to make to my black and Indigenous self are not about race at all. The reparations have to do with taking action. Now. In shelving my obedience to a liberal system that says success is made in the backs of others, while state-sanctioned violence theoretically keeps me 'free.' That is not freedom." "My original question — what am I? — is irrelevant. Apparently, I am a symphony."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

    I found the tidbits of history quite interesting. For example, I had never heard of the Windrush scandal/generation. Thoughts: The British are bloody hypocrites. They have invaded and colonized numerous countries, yet they don't want people of color in their country. (By the way, I am British.) I found the tidbits of history quite interesting. For example, I had never heard of the Windrush scandal/generation. Thoughts: The British are bloody hypocrites. They have invaded and colonized numerous countries, yet they don't want people of color in their country. (By the way, I am British.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mridula

    Beautifully structured book with chapter headings associated with the human anatomy. I found this to be a promising start to dissecting one person's experience according to, as the title states, 'race and belonging'. I appreciated McWatt's personal stories of mixed race ancestry. They were intimate and heart-searing. Structuring chapters with one line or paragraph, highlighting blank space, was a brilliant move that 'spoke volumes'. I struggled a bit with how the stories jumped around and found m Beautifully structured book with chapter headings associated with the human anatomy. I found this to be a promising start to dissecting one person's experience according to, as the title states, 'race and belonging'. I appreciated McWatt's personal stories of mixed race ancestry. They were intimate and heart-searing. Structuring chapters with one line or paragraph, highlighting blank space, was a brilliant move that 'spoke volumes'. I struggled a bit with how the stories jumped around and found myself losing focus on the central theme of chapters. Still, a lovely book worth reading.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    "To strangers, even friends - on some days also to myself - I am images of violence and oppression. I am the language of shame and destitution, of slavery and indenture, of rape and murder. I am images of power and privilege, of denial and shades of skin, shapes of faces. How does thinking these ways gt me anywhere but grounded, ground down, belonging nowhere else but in a story? How do I make a life from this?” McWatt’s memoir is absolutely beautiful – a rich and intricate examination of race, c "To strangers, even friends - on some days also to myself - I am images of violence and oppression. I am the language of shame and destitution, of slavery and indenture, of rape and murder. I am images of power and privilege, of denial and shades of skin, shapes of faces. How does thinking these ways gt me anywhere but grounded, ground down, belonging nowhere else but in a story? How do I make a life from this?” McWatt’s memoir is absolutely beautiful – a rich and intricate examination of race, culture, history and politics through the lens of the human body and her own heritage. It is written in exquisite prose and McWatt is clearly very well-read; the book is interwoven with literary references, linguistics and news excerpts. In this memoir she delves into ways in which the human body has been dissected through the centuries and used as a means to justify distinction between races. She also explores the long-standing impacts of segregation and colonialism and even after its end, how its roots and with it the hierarchies and prejudices still run deep in society even now plus the existence of an ‘us and them’ mentality, not just in the constructs of race. Embedded in the book are her personal experiences from being a multiracial woman and a recount of her journey to reconcile all the thoughts and feelings of not belonging and the struggle to find herself and form her own identity which is not solely based around race or a ‘what am I”. "Race is a construct, not a reality. It is an expression of power...Race is a construct, but the consequences of how a culture uses race are real, as is the violence committed against people for what they look like. There is violence in making a border. There is pain in being behind a wall." It took me a while to read this to let it digest and it has definitely given me plenty of food for thought, particularly in the current socio-political climate with the ongoing BLM movement and policies that continue to discriminate and undermine BIPOC and minority groups. "My happiness was still not possible while black and brown and yellow and red bodies and women's bodies and less-able bodies and queer bodies and poor bodies were still targets of neglect, hatred, violence. I knew I had to demand responsibility in others." I know that this is a book I will come back to, re-read and get more out of it. Would highly recommend for anyone looking to gain more insight and understanding into race.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    "I feel we are now at a crossroad: a new moment of reckoning in which the economy, the environment, technology and our social lives are colliding - an urgent moment of many walls and few bridges, of history repeating and identities galvanizing. I feel uneasy, and I know my colleagues, friends and family do too. What is real? What is true?" "The story of immigration in Canada is a complex one. Immigration to whose land? Whose country? Settler Europeans, First Nations, Inuit and Metis people still "I feel we are now at a crossroad: a new moment of reckoning in which the economy, the environment, technology and our social lives are colliding - an urgent moment of many walls and few bridges, of history repeating and identities galvanizing. I feel uneasy, and I know my colleagues, friends and family do too. What is real? What is true?" "The story of immigration in Canada is a complex one. Immigration to whose land? Whose country? Settler Europeans, First Nations, Inuit and Metis people still have land disputes that are unresolved as I write. The disputes are the source of deep wounds in a country that is perceived from afar as one of the most harmonious, integrated and progressive in the world. But Canada is also a country with a history of colonialism, slavery, the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples through the residential school system, Japanese internment, the Chinese head tax, the War Measures Act and many of the same pitfalls of borders-making that arise in any nation state."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Harmony Williams

    This mixed memoir and examination of racism, white-passing privilege and what the author calls plantation dynamics that stretches fingers into modern day, held me transfixed in its fluid style from the first page. It's honest, open, and searching in a way that really resonates. This mixed memoir and examination of racism, white-passing privilege and what the author calls plantation dynamics that stretches fingers into modern day, held me transfixed in its fluid style from the first page. It's honest, open, and searching in a way that really resonates.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    A very powerful book. Tessa is a fantastic writer and though I normally don't read nonfiction and found I couldn't stay focused because of that, it still had power over me and pulled me in. It's also 'heavy', in the way that for me, personally, I wouldn't be able to read this book in one sitting. It deserves your time and your pause to reflect on the things Tessa brings up. Definitely staying on my shelf for future re-reading. A very powerful book. Tessa is a fantastic writer and though I normally don't read nonfiction and found I couldn't stay focused because of that, it still had power over me and pulled me in. It's also 'heavy', in the way that for me, personally, I wouldn't be able to read this book in one sitting. It deserves your time and your pause to reflect on the things Tessa brings up. Definitely staying on my shelf for future re-reading.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Donya Ekstrand

    Struggling to Finish this book! And I was hooked when I started. Also a Guyanese woman of very mixed race, I felt myself drawn to Tessa’s analysis but after a while I felt as if the author was writing to her analyst. I get it...this insecurity of race and belonging but some people are more insecure than others and I think that the author is very insecure and throughout her life has blamed her lack of belonging on how “other people” perceived or did not perceive her. I stopped being able to relate Struggling to Finish this book! And I was hooked when I started. Also a Guyanese woman of very mixed race, I felt myself drawn to Tessa’s analysis but after a while I felt as if the author was writing to her analyst. I get it...this insecurity of race and belonging but some people are more insecure than others and I think that the author is very insecure and throughout her life has blamed her lack of belonging on how “other people” perceived or did not perceive her. I stopped being able to relate or even understand. I also get that she moved and emigrated and went to different countries, as I did but I don’t think she ever got that hang of finding a comfortable place in each society. Sad ...and I urge her to keep trying I hope that she will find a place of comfort and belonging not based on race or slavery or plantation politics......but on belonging wherever you decide to. But as I said interesting reading and I hope to finish. We are world citizens who have emigrated since the beginning of time....yes for all different kinds of reasons of which slavery is one of the worst but certainly not the only one and we must learn to create space for ourselves wherever we go.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Mitson

    This is the first book in years that I started but did not finish. I have a rule, that if by page 100 I have not enjoyed the book, then I stop reading. I decided that I do not want to spend the little time that I have reading something that I am not enjoying, my time is too valuable for that. I think that not making a decision until page 100, has definitely given the book a chance. This book had been recommended to me, I paid for it with my own money, but still could not go on. I salute everyone w This is the first book in years that I started but did not finish. I have a rule, that if by page 100 I have not enjoyed the book, then I stop reading. I decided that I do not want to spend the little time that I have reading something that I am not enjoying, my time is too valuable for that. I think that not making a decision until page 100, has definitely given the book a chance. This book had been recommended to me, I paid for it with my own money, but still could not go on. I salute everyone who enjoyed it, but not for me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Enid Wray

    This is a deeply personal and deeply moving inquiry into race and identity… and the politics of both. Another must read title for 2020… indeed for all times. From the beginning, where she describes herself as being “a song of sugar” (p19) because all of her various ancestral parts come together on a Caribbean sugar plantation… she explores race as both a construct and as a story. She adopts the economic framework of the plantation to explore so many threads: slavery and the heirarchy of races, #B This is a deeply personal and deeply moving inquiry into race and identity… and the politics of both. Another must read title for 2020… indeed for all times. From the beginning, where she describes herself as being “a song of sugar” (p19) because all of her various ancestral parts come together on a Caribbean sugar plantation… she explores race as both a construct and as a story. She adopts the economic framework of the plantation to explore so many threads: slavery and the heirarchy of races, #Black Lives Matter, feminism (including an interesting exploration of foot binding), survivor’s guilt, art and sport, hair, the colonisation of indigenous people’s, and much, much more. At the very core is a strongly economic argument - a very Marxist-feminist reasoning… “When we stake our claim on racial identity, that identity can be used against us, to keep us in our category, to keep us divided” (p143) because “the plantation likes identity politics. It likes us to be divided while it continues to make profits” (p151)... after all race exists in order “to do the accounting for who will have more and who will have less.” (p167) She explores a multiplicity of ways in which “difference” and “otherness” are used to divide us… such as “geography, religion and ethnicity” (p167) noting that concepts of class and race are “inseparable tools for othering” (p169). She draws on earlier writers like Audre Lord, Tomson Highway, John Berger, Angela Davis and Arundhati Roy (it reads like one of my university seminars!... of course we are almost the same age and some of the experiences she discusses vis-a-vis the feminist movement in Toronto in the 1980’s are the same ones I was involved in). My favourite paragraph - where she really had me, although truthfully she’d had me from the start - is this: “I oppose the treatment of people as chattel, oppose neglect, oppose the lowest price for the lowest labour, oppose coercion and manipulation, oppose exploitation, oppose cages and shackles and shantytowns and ghettos and the borders of race-making. If white is a state of mind that allows the plantation to flourish, with black as its opposite, my politics define my ‘colour.’” (P159). She reminds us that “reparations are not about race at all” and that “reparations have to do with taking action. Now.” (p192). She exhorts and demands that “everyone must engage in the humility it takes to repair our relations with each other and the planet” (p192) and that as Angela Davis said: “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” (p192). By the end she has written her way to the real question which is “not what am I. Rather it is who am I.” (p 211).

  18. 5 out of 5

    smalltownbookmom

    Enjoyed this one a lot! First the cover is gorgeous and I loved that the author is Canadian but has such a mixed ethnic background (as so many people do these days). One of the questions she addresses most in life and this book is what (or who) am I? Something we all struggle with but for someone of mixed race ancestry there are definitely extra layers. Not feeling like she belonged anywhere was a big part of her life > she traces her family’s history and takes a 23 and me DNA test trying to get Enjoyed this one a lot! First the cover is gorgeous and I loved that the author is Canadian but has such a mixed ethnic background (as so many people do these days). One of the questions she addresses most in life and this book is what (or who) am I? Something we all struggle with but for someone of mixed race ancestry there are definitely extra layers. Not feeling like she belonged anywhere was a big part of her life > she traces her family’s history and takes a 23 and me DNA test trying to get some answers but ultimately finds race is both real and a construction. I liked how she divided the book into sections focusing on different features (hair, eyes, lips, skin, DNA, etc) and all the ways those things were issues for her growing up. Also really enjoyed that she turned to books for many of her answers > her love of literature shines through in these pages. Love that she has a Guelph connection too > her Veterinarian father trained at the OVC (but had to board and work on farms because no one would take a Black boarder in the city!). Very smartly written and I highly recommend it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A powerful read. Both introspective and inspiring, McWatt's analysis of race and how "the plantation" has formed the way we live today is hard-hitting, but ultimately incites a call to action. Some quotes I really liked: "If we pay attention to language and its power - if we understand that shame buries our anger but also our compassion and makes us retreat from one another - there is a way forward. A new path." "[I]n plant biology, the offspring of a cross between different genotypes is often mor A powerful read. Both introspective and inspiring, McWatt's analysis of race and how "the plantation" has formed the way we live today is hard-hitting, but ultimately incites a call to action. Some quotes I really liked: "If we pay attention to language and its power - if we understand that shame buries our anger but also our compassion and makes us retreat from one another - there is a way forward. A new path." "[I]n plant biology, the offspring of a cross between different genotypes is often more vigorous than its parents. ... The vigour of hybridity, of crossing boundaries, is what we all have, already." "[I]t's time for disobedience. For action. ... In our dispossession and our rage, we need to ask different questions. The single most powerful tool we have the our language and its ability to reinvent realities. We can talk and listen, undergo a collective psychoanalysis that sees us uncovering all that is difficult to know: the sources of shame and how we might move on from them."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jane Mulkewich

    This is a book about a family "steeped in the anecdotes of grandparents and parents who recount their histories through the lens of desire, aspiration, loss and shame. We Caribbean families rely heavily on oral histories because we come from ruptured roots, transplantation and whispered heritages related to slavery and colonialism." Tessa McWatt was born in British Guiana, raised in Toronto, and has lived for over two decades in England. Her ancestry is Chinese, African, Scottish, indigenous / A This is a book about a family "steeped in the anecdotes of grandparents and parents who recount their histories through the lens of desire, aspiration, loss and shame. We Caribbean families rely heavily on oral histories because we come from ruptured roots, transplantation and whispered heritages related to slavery and colonialism." Tessa McWatt was born in British Guiana, raised in Toronto, and has lived for over two decades in England. Her ancestry is Chinese, African, Scottish, indigenous / Arawak, Indian, Portuguese and French. Her ancestors all centred around the sugar plantations of Guyana; "I am a song of sugar" she writes. Essentially this is a book that examines the juxtaposition of the author going through a lifetime of trying to figure out who she is, and what others think about who she is, and how her heritage is embodied in her nose, lips, eyes, hair, ass, bones, skin, blood (all chapters in the book).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Fu

    Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging was one of the last books I read in 2020 (writing this on 29 Dec). It was a perfect read to end a tumultous year. Tessa McWatt's examination of race, family, history and belonging is wide-ranging and thought-provoking. She never essentialises or trivialises the difficult questions she asks, but teases out careful nuances and considerations. I liked how the text incorporated both personal stories and broad, historical questions. In the manner of the b Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging was one of the last books I read in 2020 (writing this on 29 Dec). It was a perfect read to end a tumultous year. Tessa McWatt's examination of race, family, history and belonging is wide-ranging and thought-provoking. She never essentialises or trivialises the difficult questions she asks, but teases out careful nuances and considerations. I liked how the text incorporated both personal stories and broad, historical questions. In the manner of the best non-fiction, I felt like I was in the hands of a great storyteller who expanded my world and has left me with great challenges, but also hope for better, more generous ways of being. I am glad that McWatt wrote this book and I am glad that I have read it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nosemonkey

    "Race is the story of the self told by a stranger, with 'white' as the primordial narrator. If we disable that narrator, new stories based on true identity rather than identification become possible. But what is true identity?" This may only come on page 219, but is the core of the book's purpose. A very readable, engaging journey of self-exploration by a multiply mixed-race woman trying to understand what this heritage means, what *race* means, and where (if anywhere) she belongs. "Race is the story of the self told by a stranger, with 'white' as the primordial narrator. If we disable that narrator, new stories based on true identity rather than identification become possible. But what is true identity?" This may only come on page 219, but is the core of the book's purpose. A very readable, engaging journey of self-exploration by a multiply mixed-race woman trying to understand what this heritage means, what *race* means, and where (if anywhere) she belongs.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jodie Siu

    Fascinating exploration of one woman's search for her identity and a feeling of belonging. Traces the plantation mentality that still haunts us. "Race is the story of the self told by a stranger, with 'white' as the primordial narrator." She finds the key to belonging and identity through art and activism, like Shawn Ginwright https://medium.com/@ginwright/the-fut.... Fascinating exploration of one woman's search for her identity and a feeling of belonging. Traces the plantation mentality that still haunts us. "Race is the story of the self told by a stranger, with 'white' as the primordial narrator." She finds the key to belonging and identity through art and activism, like Shawn Ginwright https://medium.com/@ginwright/the-fut....

  24. 5 out of 5

    Angelique

    It grabbed me from the beginning and then it just takes time to read. Some really great points about not wanting to be alone on the plantation - how dna is more of representation instead of a mix/melt. We are symphonies! ‘We are in perpetual intimacy’. She’s a brilliant writer (from the race of writers) and it was challenging, but so clearly written and envisioned.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Konstantin R.

    Interesting mixture of memoir and racial issues at large. Well-written and heartfelt. Having met with her, I can tell you she is nice and considerate and very aware of the issues around race and identity. A good book if, especially the first little section, if you want to explore race without it being overly obvious. Subtle and effective portrait.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    Tessa McWatt is a beautiful writer and I really like her style of weaving person reflections with historical and current facts related to race and identity. Having lived around the world, and having such diversity in her genetics, gives her an interesting perspective on being a biracial woman of colour.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Mcleod

    Very well written and personal narrative that by the conclusion very much proves how we are all related. As the author then encourages we need to then act and treat each other as all members of one big and loving family. As Tessa reiterates over the course of her reflective and inspiring narrative: the question becomes “who am I” instead of “what am I”?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tricia-Lee Neufeld

    Was drawn to how the author weaved stories of her life with the legacy of her ancestory and history on race and racism. Broken down with attention to different parts of our bodies and how they can be respected and violated. I felt the author's push-pull with defining self. Was drawn to how the author weaved stories of her life with the legacy of her ancestory and history on race and racism. Broken down with attention to different parts of our bodies and how they can be respected and violated. I felt the author's push-pull with defining self.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

    An exploration of race, identity and belonging through different parts of the body and the author's mixed heritage. I liked the part memoir, part study style, as it kept the narrative invigorated and Mcwatt was open about her own journey. An exploration of race, identity and belonging through different parts of the body and the author's mixed heritage. I liked the part memoir, part study style, as it kept the narrative invigorated and Mcwatt was open about her own journey.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    A gorgeous exploration of race, belonging and the body. Tessa McWatt was born in British Guyanese. She is a mixed race person. This book is part memoir, and part scientific/poetic look at race. I really enjoyed it, learned some things and thought it was incredibly well written.

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