Friday, January 8, 2010
Multi-Racial Read #2
Flygirl is a fictional account of a young light-skinned African American woman in Louisiana in 1941 who decides to pass in order to be accepted into the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots). Her motivation is two-fold and powerful. She has a deep passion to fly, fueled by memories of flying with her deceased father who taught her how to fly his crop duster; and she desires to help bring her older brother home who enlisted as a medic.The core of this book, which is appropriate for 5th-9th grade readers, is the price that Ida Mae will have to pay to accomplish her dream.
I read this book looking for background information on Lillie Harris, my light-skinned African American character. I was not disappointed. Sherri Smith, the author of Flygirl, deftly depicts the conflicts which Ida Mae experiences because of her skin color. From the beginning when her best friend observes that she is “Little Miss Pretty Hair [with] Creamy White Skin” (p. 9) through the last pages when she is confronted by romantic attention from her white flight instructor—the book is full of the difficult decisions Ida Mae makes in pursuit of her goal.
As an author investigating the social and cultural context of the South before integration, the book’s key passages are those which show Ida Mae’s background and the tensions which she faces. Early in the book the reader discovers that Ida Mae’s maternal grandmother is a French-speaking Creole. Smith writes,
“My father’s people were town people, city folks who followed opportunity the way a compass follows north. Sometime back, one of them found herself with child by a white man. They steered that half-colored girl down a path that made each generation lighter than light, having children by white men and marrying those children to other mixed coloreds, lighter and whiter until my father was born.
“Daddy was destined to marry a white woman, to be a passé blanc and give his family a better lot in life. By daddy wasn’t an opportunist. He was a romantic, and his heart chose Mama. Grandmѐre Boudreaux never forgave daddy for his choice of a brown-skinned bride…” (p. 53)
Constantly fighting her fear that she will be discovered, Ida Mae passes into a world that is denied other African Americans. Although she is accepted into the WASP program and fulfills her dream to fly, there are heavy consequences. In a poignant scene her mother visits her at the training camp. Meeting her at the gate, Ida Mae pretends that her mother is her maid in order to have a simple conversation:
“Aware of the guard at our backs, we fall into the pattern of mistress and maid. Watching my mother play the role of servant, I feel a sour taste in my throat. I never meant for my own role-playing to bring her such humiliation.
“I don’t know this guard. He gives us a suspicious once-over, the look of someone trying to keep his status. “It’s all right,” I tell him. “She’s our housekeeper.” The word burns my throat…” p. 160-161.
Although more appealing to girls than boys, this account of one women’s struggle against both gender and racial prejudices would supplement classroom studies of African Americans and World War II. I learned a lot by reading it; Flygirl will provide thought-provoking lessons to students across many cultures. (G.P.Putnam’s Sons, 2008)
1941, Flygirl, Sherri Smith, light-skinned African Americans, WASP, WWII, historical fiction,
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