Literaryswag Book Club Pick for April: Jess Row's Your Face In Mine

What always sticks out in my mind is the way James Baldwin described his time in Paris. "I didn't go to Paris," he said, "I left New York." Meaning: Baldwin's flight had nothing to do with where he was trying to go; but everything to do with what he was trying to get away from. All those things he thought he left in New York--his blackness, his gayness, his Americanness, his anger, fears and ambitions--when he arrived in Paris, came with him, leading him to the sobering understanding that "perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition." Meaning: we're turtles, and carry home with us wherever we go. The pick for this month's book club is Jess Row's novel, Your Face in Mine. On the surface, it's about a white Jewish man who undergoes racial reassignment surgery to become a black man. That's just the surface, and because books are always more than their plots, allow me to take you deeper. The writer of this book, Jess Row, is white. And when I first began reading the book, I rolled my eyes because I thought this was going to be another book where a white man tells me what it's like to be black. But when my eyes fell still I saw that this book--much like Baldwin's flight from New York--isn't about why Martin (the white character who gets the surgery) is running towards blackness; this book is about why Martin is running away FROM whiteness. Think about it. In all the interviews you've seen of Rachel Dolezal, no one ever asks her why she doesn't want to be white; they just ask her why she think she's black. To ask a white person why they don't want to be white is to interrogate a system of power that thrives on never being questioned. The term "white flight" has always suggested it was the other that white people feared. This novel suggests something different. We meet Thursday, April 27th, 7pm at The Brooklyn Circus to discuss.

Jennelle Gordon