In April 1970, Marra Gad was born in New York to an unwed, white Jewish mother and an unnamed, Black father. Three days later, she was adopted by a Jewish family in Chicago.
In The Color of Love, Gad reflects on her childhood and early adulthood. She revisits critical moments and relationships, which both helped and hindered her as she tried to grapple with her identity as a mixed-race Jewish girl.
The first part of the book focuses on her childhood. She describes a fiercely loving and protective nuclear family, which expelled from their lives anyone who showed signs of racism. And the slings came from all sides. The neighborhood friend she played with told Gad that she was unwanted by her real mother, and that was why she lived with her current family and did not resemble them. Despite transparency about the adoption, neither she nor her parents or siblings had ever felt the difference in skin color as a difference. “I had always been told that it was because I was so loved, by both my birth mother and by my parents, that I had been adopted,” Gad writes. So, the neighbor disappeared from their lives.
When Gad wanted her hair straightened, her “Bubbie” took her to a hairdresser in Chicago’s South Side, a primarily Black neighborhood in 1978. “We dressed in synagogue finery for our trip to the beauty shop,” she writes. There, the author hears herself referred to for the first time as, “that light-skinned child.” At that point she had heard about her brownness from white people but not about her lightness from people of color.
As she got older and tried to navigate the world of dating, which is fraught even under the easiest of circumstances, she found that “Jewish boys didn’t want to explain my brown skin. And Black boys could not understand or embrace my Judaism.”
The second part of the book explores one of the most difficult relationships in Gad’s life. Her great aunt Nette, who had been unapologetically racist throughout her childhood and was eventually estranged from the family, developed Alzheimer’s Disease in her later years. It was Gad who helped manage her care and, in doing so, saw a different side of her aunt, as she vacillated between lucidity and forgetfulness.
The memoir is peppered with poignant moments from the author’s childhood — ones that leave her teetering between unconditional love and unambiguous “othering.”
The book is an easy narrative on a complicated experience. It is a deeply personal story through which the author has shared a perspective that is seldom told.
Ada Brunstein is the Head of Reference at a university press.