‘The Vanishing Half’ review: A must-read about the effects of colourism and discrimination

Shloka Vishweshwar
  • The heartfelt novel from Brit Bennett touches on the themes of family, love and grief
  • The book explores the history of racism in the US and how slavery and prejudice still affect the country in the modern day
Shloka Vishweshwar |

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This 2020 book has earned a lot of attention from bookworms and non-readers alike.

The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett

Published by Riverhead Books

ISBN 978 0 5255 3629 1

Brit Bennett’s novel, The Vanishing Half, has garnered attention from bookworms and non-bookworms alike. While its exploration of themes of family, love and grief are praiseworthy, it also discusses the important issue of colourism, which is when people within the same ethnicity or race discriminate against individuals with darker skin.

This issue is explored through the experiences of a pair of twins and their future offspring. Spanning over four decades from 1950 to 1990, the story concludes with a reunion that ties up all loose ends.

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The novel starts in Mallard, a fictional US town filled with people who are Black but just light enough to almost be white. The protagonists, twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, have grown up here, but they run away at the age of 16 after being fed up with the town’s rigid lifestyle and violent desire for whiteness.

However, after Stella deserts Desiree, the two go down very different paths, and the stark contrast between their lives is the core of the novel’s plot and themes.

Desiree eventually returns to Mallard with her daughter who is described as “blue-black”, and faces discrimination in the town throughout her childhood.

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Stella, on the other hand, has married a rich white man, and her daughter is pale-skinned and blonde.

But her seemingly comfortable life comes at the price of having to pretend at all times that she is white.

The author demonstrates through this family how colourism is historically linked to America’s enslavement of Black people and its need for purity and whiteness.

In the modern day, we see examples of colourism when films try to tick all their diversity boxes. They hire Black actors to show their film is “diverse”, but often turn to lighter-skinned or mixed people instead, who are just Black enough to fill the quota, but not too Black.

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While colourism in the US is specific to the country’s history, different versions of it exist in Asia (with its skin-lightening creams), and other parts of the world.

This book explores this issue well, and reminds us that skin tone does not determine a shred of someone’s worth.

Filled with heartfelt moments and lush descriptions, The Vanishing Half is difficult to put down, and it’s definitely a read you won’t want to miss.

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