Book Review: In The Color of Love

When love was based on the color of her skin.

(photo credit: JEWISH BOOK COUNCIL)
The facts of her life are simple enough. Marra B. Gad was born to a young, unwed Jewish woman. Her biological father was black. That information was hidden from the prospective adoptive, white Jewish parents until her birth. It only became clear when she arrived “the color of milk chocolate [with] a head full of dark, curly hair.”
Given the chance to renege on their plan to adopt the unexpectedly biracial baby, Gad’s parents declined.
“Returning me was not an option because, to them, no mistake had been made. When they looked into my crib, they didn’t see a mixed-race baby – they saw their new daughter. And, at three days old, I was taken home to Chicago.”
In The Color of Love, Gad tells her story in straightforward, unadorned prose. The book is really two tales in one. The first 10 chapters tell the story of her childhood. Although fiercely loved by her parents and maternal grandmother, Gad recounts many (too many) incidences of reprehensible treatment based on the color of her skin.
Just one example suffices to capture the indignities to which she was subjected as a mixed-race Jewish girl in a white Jewish family. As a child, Gad was directed to clean up a chain-smoking aunt’s cigarette butts, while her sister was taken onto the aunt’s lap and read to. The reaction was swift and strong, and the visiting Aunt Goldie was banished from the family home, never to be seen again.
Gad elaborated, “Goldie wasn’t the first relative to be cast out of the family when bias had been made known, but it was the first time I had witnessed it. It was the first time I can remember knowing something horrible was happening and that I was at the heart of it.”
As an adult, many men found her exotic, not suitable as a life partner, but rather as an exciting sexual conquest. Worse, her Jewishness was frequently questioned.
When Gad attended the 2019 Union for Reform Judaism Biennial as an invited presenter, reports of her maltreatment clearly indicate, to our great shame, that her Jewishness was still being questioned. Twice she was assumed to be part of the hotel staff. Her presence at the conference was repeatedly and aggressively challenged. When she replied that she was an invited speaker, she was questioned about what she could have to speak about that would interest a Jewish audience.
Part One ends with a careless expression of racism, voiced by her mother’s eccentric and favorite Aunt Nette. Until that pivotal moment, “Nette’s behavior has been so elegantly executed as to never be public. She was careful not to be overtly aggressive as my other relatives had been. It was easy – for both my mother and me – to find other reasons why she treated me differently from my siblings,” Gad wrote about her great aunt.
In the book’s second part, Gad details how, in the absence of other family members who could, she took personal responsibility for her Great-Aunt Nette’s care. In doing so, Gad wrote about herself, “I defaulted to love.”
In an ironic twist, Great-Aunt Nette’s racism was blunted by her cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease. In the end, Gad got to experience a wholly different Nette, and the two were able to connect.
“Alzheimer’s turned an abusive, mean woman into someone docile. Sweet. Complimentary. And the eyes that no longer recognized me no longer saw me as ugly and inferior.... I had finally found a place of peace, comfort, and, at times, even joy in her company,” Gad reflected.
Having earned a master’s degree in modern Jewish history, Gad now works as an independent film and television producer in Los Angeles. In the book’s prologue, despite all she endures as a result of her biracial origin, she pronounces herself “the luckiest.”
In the end, the reader is left to marvel at Gad’s magnanimity. In the face of a lifetime of racially motivated aggression, she consistently chooses love.
By Marra Gad
Agate Bolden
256 pages; $17.00