In Lady Sings the Blues, did race or gender help to shape her personality? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Holiday's memoir does not immediately determine or force a choice between both elements.  She is able to speak to the idea that both of them converged to help shape her identity.  The fact that she was a woman who was forced to endure rape and prostitution at an early age helps to speak to the idea that being a woman held power over her in terms of shaping her personality.  At the same time, Holiday does not miss a beat in describing the difficulties in being Black in America at a time of severe discrimination.  Facing racial prejudice nearly every step of the way is a part of her being.  In both realities, race and gender are not forcing a choice as much as converging upon her and forcing her to endure unimaginable difficulties.  Her descent into drug addiction might be seen as a way to avoid a social condition in which being a woman and being a woman of color is intensely difficult and painful for someone with the talent of Holiday.  In this, race and gender conspire to create a reality in which difficulty and struggle is unavoidable, causing the past to never relent in its haunting and constructing a present and future where pain is inescapable.