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Sweeter the Juice

Sweeter the Juice

A Family Memoir in Black and White

  • reading group guide
The Sweeter the Juice is a provocative memoir that goes to the heart of our American identity. Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, in an effort to reconcile the dissonance between her black persona and her undeniably multiracial heritage, started on a journey of discovery that took her over thousands of miles and hundreds of years. While searching for her mother's family, Haizlip confronted the deeply intertwined but often suppressed tensions between race and skin color.
We are drawn in by the story of an African-American family. Some members chose to "cross over" and "pass" for white while others enjoyed a successful black life. Their stories weave a tale of tangled ancestry, mixed blood, and identity issues from the 17th century to the present. The Sweeter the Juice is a memoir, a social history, a biography, and an autobiography. Haizlip gives to us the quintessential American story, unveiling truths about race, about our society, and about the ways in which we all perceive and judge one another.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 272 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780671899332 | 
  • January 1995
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It is his life and no mere abstraction in someone's head. He must live it and try consciously to grasp its complexity until he can change it; must live it as he changes it.

Ralph Ellison

Shadow and Act

On a January day so achingly cold the streets of Manhattan were almost empty, Julian Taylor, a man the color of fresh-baked ginger cake, married Margaret Morris, a woman the color of eggnog. Emerging from the judge's chambers at City Hall, the bride nearly slipped on a sidewalk covered with black ice. Crystalline slivers were beginning to fall.

As they made their way carefully to... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points

  1. The issue of race and color is continually discussed and debated in America by the media, in the courtroom, in the classroom, and around the dinner table. Is race a big issue to you personally? Is white, black, or any color part of how you define yourself?
  2. What issues does The Sweeter the Juice raise for you on the topic of nature vs. nurture? Is race genetic, bred by socialization, or where your allegiance lies? What happened to the Morris family calls into question the concept of color as a means of self-definition. Is color as simple as how you label yourself? What does color mean if you can choose your race?
  3. "They had left the city and the race," writes Haizlip about her great-uncle Edward Morris and his wife, Minette Williams. What did you think about the extended Morris clan who turned their back on their own heritage and siblings in search of a better life? If you believed that "crossing over" would afford your family a better life, would you make the same choice?
  4. Families left the black community trusting that passing for white would bring them a better, easier life. Yet in the end, we see the black author riding in a limousine to visit her "white" aunt who lives in a trailer park. Can you attribute this to the fact that the family who lived as white was divisive while the black side of the family stayed together? What does this say about the power of a cohesive f
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