Black Is the Body is a beautifully executed collection of personal and connected essays by Emily Bernard, about her experience as a Black woman moving through traditionally white spaces in America (and as both an academic and a resident of Vermont, let’s face it: she knows of what she writes). It is also a chronicle of the deep love that passes between grandmothers, mothers, and daughters — and a story of how both friendship and marriage can heal intergenerational wounds. Or as Emily writes, “In every scar there is a story. The salve is the telling itself.”
Born in the South to a Caribbean father and an American mother, Emily eventually moved north, married a white man who teaches African-American studies, and adopted daughters from Ethiopia, all the while thinking and writing with honesty and intellectual curiosity about what it all means. When reflecting on her marriage, Emily marvels that there exist couples who seek sameness, who buy into the myth and danger of color-blindness. She shares that what she and her husband have in common is how interested they are in their differences. And she provides a critical reminder that bravery is a practice: she is preternaturally comfortable with discomfort, a place where unequivocal truths live.
With insights on American culture, motherhood, marriage, trust, friendship, teaching, and of course and most vividly, race, Black Is the Body is an engrossing memoir and meditation on the world we live in. It’s about a life of the mind, but also a life of the body. But more than anything, it’s about honest love. These essays are exquisite, authentic, and astute — like Emily herself.