The Col­or of Love: A Sto­ry of a Mixed Race Jew­ish Girl

  • Review
By – February 3, 2020

In April 1970, Mar­ra Gad was born in New York to an unwed, white Jew­ish moth­er and an unnamed, Black father. Three days lat­er, she was adopt­ed by a Jew­ish fam­i­ly in Chicago.

In The Col­or of Love, Gad reflects on her child­hood and ear­ly adult­hood. She revis­its crit­i­cal moments and rela­tion­ships, which both helped and hin­dered her as she tried to grap­ple with her iden­ti­ty as a mixed-race Jew­ish girl.

The first part of the book focus­es on her child­hood. She describes a fierce­ly lov­ing and pro­tec­tive nuclear fam­i­ly, which expelled from their lives any­one who showed signs of racism. And the slings came from all sides. The neigh­bor­hood friend she played with told Gad that she was unwant­ed by her real moth­er, and that was why she lived with her cur­rent fam­i­ly and did not resem­ble them. Despite trans­paren­cy about the adop­tion, nei­ther she nor her par­ents or sib­lings had ever felt the dif­fer­ence in skin col­or as a dif­fer­ence. I had always been told that it was because I was so loved, by both my birth moth­er and by my par­ents, that I had been adopt­ed,” Gad writes. So, the neigh­bor dis­ap­peared from their lives.

When Gad want­ed her hair straight­ened, her Bub­bie” took her to a hair­dress­er in Chicago’s South Side, a pri­mar­i­ly Black neigh­bor­hood in 1978. We dressed in syn­a­gogue fin­ery for our trip to the beau­ty shop,” she writes. There, the author hears her­self referred to for the first time as, that light-skinned child.” At that point she had heard about her brown­ness from white peo­ple but not about her light­ness from peo­ple of color.

As she got old­er and tried to nav­i­gate the world of dat­ing, which is fraught even under the eas­i­est of cir­cum­stances, she found that Jew­ish boys didn’t want to explain my brown skin. And Black boys could not under­stand or embrace my Judaism.”

The sec­ond part of the book explores one of the most dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ships in Gad’s life. Her great aunt Nette, who had been unapolo­get­i­cal­ly racist through­out her child­hood and was even­tu­al­ly estranged from the fam­i­ly, devel­oped Alzheimer’s Dis­ease in her lat­er years. It was Gad who helped man­age her care and, in doing so, saw a dif­fer­ent side of her aunt, as she vac­il­lat­ed between lucid­i­ty and forgetfulness.

The mem­oir is pep­pered with poignant moments from the author’s child­hood — ones that leave her tee­ter­ing between uncon­di­tion­al love and unam­bigu­ous oth­er­ing.”

The book is an easy nar­ra­tive on a com­pli­cat­ed expe­ri­ence. It is a deeply per­son­al sto­ry through which the author has shared a per­spec­tive that is sel­dom told.

Discussion Questions