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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Berkeley Savala Nolan Explores “In-Between” Life in a Book on Race, Gender, and Body

Admittedly, Savala Nolan is in the middle.

“I have a strange place in culture because my life and my personality are made up of all these opposites,” says the San Anselmo native.

“I am a black woman of mixed descent, and what people sometimes call“ a lot of yellow wasted ”means that my fair (yellow) skin is“ tainted ”with black features (curly hair, wide nose). I’m Mexican from my father’s side, but I don’t speak Spanish. I descended from enslaved people from my father’s side, but slave owners from my mother’s side.

Her father, black and Mexican, was terribly poor, dropped out of school by age 8 to support his family, was imprisoned for many years and sometimes sold drugs for child support. When she visited him at the ranch, he called home with no electricity or running water, and the landlords called him “Big Nigga,” and she walked to the bathroom in a bucket. Her mother, a member of the daughter of the American Revolution, completed her graduate school. Nolan attended some of Marina’s most beautiful private schools – Marin Country Day School and Marin Academy – and worked as a clerk in the White House lawyer’s office during the Obama administration. She was also thin and overweight after a lifetime on a diet that began in early childhood.

Simon and Schuster

She was an insider and an outsider at the same time.

Understandably, Nolan wanted to explore her many sides, which she does in the essays included in her first book Don’t Let It Take You: An Essay on Race, Gender, and Body (Simon & Schuster), which was published this summer.

Her 12 essays cover motherhood, dating, sex, estate, government and gender-based violence, diet, what it means to be a black girl and woman in the United States, and our country’s long history of racism.

Study of dislocation

Being a mediator, as she calls herself, “opens up an interesting perspective for me. I wanted to explore my cultural location to determine where I belong to these categories. “

Marin County is an important background to her story, although it does not feature prominently in her essays. It is briefly mentioned in her chapter “Poor Education,” which talks about how women accept violence as a way to participate in our culture, and in the chapter that gives the title to the book. In this passage, she describes meeting her mother at a local park in Berkeley where she lives with her husband and daughter, who assumes that Nolan was from Marine City when Nolan told her she was “from the Marine.” She knows very well that her mother would never have thought that if she were White.

Nolan’s mother came to Marine from upstate New York as a teenager with her family, moved to West Marine to live in the commune, and then settled in San Anselmo to raise her family with Nolan’s father, although they split up. when Nolan was still a child. He grew up in a Southern California agricultural town near the border and ended up in Marina when he was sent to San Quentin.

She admits that if she went to public schools, perhaps she would feel differently as a mixed race girl in Marina. She was a capable child and her mother decided that private schools were the best option.

“Attending private schools makes Marin wealthy on steroids,” she says. “I’ve been such an overwhelming fish in terms of economy and race, and frankly, my body since I was a chubby kid.

“As a woman, we are very attached to the way we look. So having a “wrong” body as well as a “right” body is another way for me to be in several places at the same time, ”she says.

At a young age, Nolan realized that there are things that distinguish her from her peers and create tension in her. She just didn’t have a language for that. She began to find this language while attending a semester at the Mining School, an operating farm in rural Vermont, in her junior high school.

“I became more critical not necessarily of myself, but of my environment and how it affects my head,” she says.

Nolan’s publications in Bust, Time and Vogue are closely related to the work she does as executive director of the Center for Social Justice. Telton E. Henderson at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, dealing with issues related to ownership, subordination, and more privilege, power, resources, and security.

Vulnerable voice

Her book has earned praise for its honesty and willingness to explore the contradictions in her life, offering a model for others to do the same.

“Nolan’s embrace of the heterogeneity of black femininity is part of the charm of this book,” writes The New York Times, adding that her voice is “vulnerable, but rarely comes down to self-indulgence.”

Her chapters on her recently deceased father and the history of her White mother’s slavery were particularly brutal and tedious to research and write. Black people in America are hungry for their history, but it only goes so far – a lot has been erased by the slavery system, she says. She wonders why more and more white people are less interested in their family background when information is so readily available …

“It fascinates and upsets me that so many white people do not feel called upon to understand exactly how their family line intersects with chattel slavery. It was the backbone of the economy, ”she says. “If you don’t live under a rock, you know this will not be a pleasant exploration. At the same time, if you do not tell the truth, you correct the lie. So I wonder what we are losing in terms of what is possible for our future when so many white people insist on not understanding the truth. “

Nolan hopes her book offers people the opportunity to have such conversations.

And while growing up at Marine helped her develop some of her feelings of in-between, she admits that it gave her a lot.

“I had so many good things in Marina. Physically it was a very safe place for me, although emotionally it was not a very safe place for me, ”she says. “Marine is a difficult place and it was a difficult place.”

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