Family secrets

November 8th, 2007 by kathy

Most families have secrets. Mine is certainly no exception. Of course, secrets are hard to keep. You hear bits and pieces—gossip, fragmented memories from a long time ago, whispers—and then you’re left to fill in the blanks, ultimately coming up with your own (often misinformed) version of events.

Such was the case here—sort of, but this story has a happy ending and I just love that.

More than a decade ago, author Bliss Broyard learned her father, New York Times book critic and essayist Anatole Broyard, harbored a secret:

“Your father is part black,” her mother, Alexandra, blurted out to Ms. Broyard and her brother, Todd, when their father couldn’t muster the words.

Broyard tells The New York Times that she thought she was like every other WASP living a posh life in a posh part of Connecticut. She says that she attributed her father’s olive complexion and dark hair color to his French ancestry (an earlier Times article about the book states that Broyard had a feeling that there was more to her father’s story). Although his secret hardly seems like a big deal today, it certainly was when Mr. Broyard decided to keep the fact that his parents were Creoles on the DL.

His secret also meant something else that went beyond skin color: Family, alive and well, living in New Orleans. In the early 90’s, Broyard, the daughter, decided to write her family’s story (now titled, “One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets.”) so she packed up and moved down to The Big Easy where she found other Broyards in the phone book.

In fact, many cousins who convened at the family get-together last month had known about Ms. Broyard and her father long before she contacted them. Even though they kept his secret, they talked about him among themselves. Anatole Broyard had been their high-achieving superstar. Occasionally, a Broyard aunt would clip one of his reviews and pass it around town.

Ms. Broyard learned the Creole word for the way her father had lived: passablanc. To this day virtually all Creoles are related to or at least know people who have tried to better their prospects by abandoning family and denying any black heritage to pass as white.

“‘That’s my cousin’ was something you often said in a whisper,” Jennifer Broyard, 51, a Creole audiologist, said.

You can read the entire Times piece here or you can dish your family’s secrets.

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