Four generations of strong women in Cane River showed us a side of slavery many of us had never seen before. Read the highlights from our on-air discussion with Lalita Tademy.
Lalita: This is a story about relationships. And mothers and daughters. About who you choose as a mate. It's a story about resilience and survival and independence and family.
Oprah: Well, this is the first time I've read a story where the white men who [had] initially taken the black women genuinely cared for them. That thought had never occurred to me.
Lalita: The thing that so inspired me when I was writing the book was that these women were victimized, but they had made a choice not to become victims. And they had taken whatever little they had and they turned it into something positive...something they could pass down to their children.
Oprah: When I announced the book, I said specially that it's about lots of different things, including the whole miscegenation and the light skin/dark skin [which] runs deeper than I think any of us consciously are aware of on a regular basis. Did you know that you were uncovering all of that?
Lalita: I knew that it resonated. I didn't know it was going to resonate. I've been getting a lot of feedback on that specifically. And it surprised even me how deep it was. People said that this explained to them for the first time what some of the origins of that might be. And it brought them a little closer to, if not forgiveness, at least understanding.
Oprah: Understanding that ... people felt safer, more protected, and that your life would be better based upon the lightness of your skin.
Lalita: And the possibility of more opportunity.
Lalita: Were you all aware of that [the hierarchy of lightness to blackness] before reading this, Stephanie?
Stephanie: I really wasn't aware of it. But I—as soon as I opened the book and began, it conjured up my own family history. Immediately .. I [realized] that it was important for survival, for protection, and for equality that you did have to bleach the line. It was almost vital for survival...it's very sad, though.
Tracey: I was very aware, intellectually, that there was this hierarchy of lightness to darkness. I had this beautiful student whose parents were from Africa. She had this dark, gleaming, dark wood-colored skin, and I complimented her one day by saying, 'you have such a gorgeous complexion.' [She responded, ] 'Oh, Mrs. Wood, I hate my skin. It's so dark.' And the emotional reality for me to see that this young 14-year-old girl hated her skin was a whole different experience.
Stephanie: I had that experience as a new employee at a hotel. If you were light, you could work in the "front" of the house. If you were dark, you worked in the "back" of the house.
Oprah: [Lalita] said that the real horror was the separation of families. And when I read Beloved, I thought the real horror, aside from the beatings, aside from everything else, is having no choice.
Lalita: Exactly. And it's not brutality of the physical sort. It's of the spiritual and emotional sort and it's dominance and it's what you do with that dominance and what you do to crush spirit.