It’s taken me far too long to write this review (so sorry, Kathryn!), but I wanted to read the book again and gather my thoughts to do it justice. Quick disclaimer: I know the author personally, but I’m writing this review unsolicited, because it’s a fantastic book.
Black Was Not a Label is a collection of creative nonfiction essays about Ross’s experiences and relationship with racism, faith, and identity. She speaks of her friendships and romances through these lenses, and how she has grappled with who she is and what it means to be a black woman in America, and how her relationship with God influences it all.
I felt so many things while reading this—sadness, anger, hope, and more. This writing is beautiful, adept, and vulnerable all at once. The imagery and feelings are palpable in every sentence. Ross reminds us through her deft prose that racism is still alive, presenting itself in various ways—from unconscious micro-aggressions to overt, insidious acts of discrimination and Other-ing. She analyzes race relations, racial trauma, and shows how complex it all is to try to live with it. However, her frustration and pain is mixed with a desperate hope that black people can be seen in this society as worthy and beautiful.
I don’t know that I can easily choose a favorite essay in this—every single one is fantastic, with lines that I’ll be thinking about for a long time. That said, “Erasure” and “Hair” and “Ghost World 1—Heritage” are probably my top three. But ask me again after I reread this once more, and I bet my answer will be different.
In the end, this is a very powerful, emotional, vital, moving read. And it’s worth reading more than once, because there is so much contained within it. I can’t wait to see what else Ross has in store for us readers in the future! She is definitely an author to watch.