The Black Notebooks

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Toi Derricotte’s THE BLACK NOTEBOOKS: AN INTERIOR JOURNEY is an intimate portrait of a black woman who has “passed invisibly into the white world.” Along the way, through these passages, Derricotte has experienced racism from the outside, through the slanted cast of the public eye, as well as from the inside, through her own sense of insecurity and fear. Derricotte documents these encounters with her own blackness through a series of journal entries. These entries offer the reader the rare opportunity to listen into this private dialogue on race relations, as witnessed and recorded by Derricotte the professor, the artist, the woman, the wife, and resident in an all-white neighborhood outside of New York City, where Derricotte lived when she first began writing this book, twenty years before publication, while “in the middle of a severe depression.” She articulates what it is like to be perceived as something and someone she is not. On the surface, Derricotte might “pass” as being white, but on the inside, underneath her skin, she is all black. The most powerful moments in this book, on this interior journey, re-create those instances when Derricotte’s skin color has not been seen as it is: those times when, in other words, others—that is, whites—have seen her to be one of them. Do I tell them the truth? Derricotte asks. Do I tell them who I am: that I am black? These questions form the heart of Derricotte’s story. At an artist’s colony where she is the lone black artist in residence, she confides to the page: “I am afraid to come out as a black person, to bear that solitude, that hatred, that invisibility.” When Derricotte does finally come out and expose who and what she is, the response is, “You’re not really black.” How the world perceives her is a constant and deep-cored source of inner and outer struggle for Derricotte—a struggle not to give in to the illusion of who she is not. Derricotte’s struggle for self- acceptance, for her salvation, proves to be beatable, and the result of that victory is a book that rises up out of that battle, that tightening silence, that journey to an inner place of awakening where Derricotte brings forth and sings beautifully about what it means to be black.