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Sweeter the Juice

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 family, whatever their skin color?
    5. Reading The Sweeter the Juice, what surprised you the most?
    6. The author relates a story of her husband meeting another Dr. Haizlip on an airplane -- a distant, white relative previously unknown to him. This story is far from a singular one. Many people have a mixed heritage that even they may not be aware of. In your view, is it important to make connections to all of your heritage? To your relatives? Why?
    7. Forty-five percent of those surveyed in the 1990 Census checked the box regarding race marked "other," clearly indicating that traditional labels no longer apply. What is gained by distinguishing ourselves with labels? What if, instead of African-American, German-American, or Italian-American, all members of this society simply referred to themselves as American? Would that help to validate the universal connection of humanity in this country? What might we lose?
    8. The author, in a sense, "outed" members of her family who had previously believed themselves to be white. How did you feel about this?
    9. What, in your opinion, was the author's final word on race and color?
    10. How important is familial and racial history in your own life? Is it relevant to you today? Have you ever traced your roots? Having read The Sweeter the Juice, have you thought about your own ancestry in a different light?
    11. Did this book change the way you think about race? About our culture and history? About America? What message does The Sweeter the Juice leave with you? How has the book changed you, if at all?
    Recommended Readings
    The Price of the Ticket: Collected Non-fiction, James Baldwin
    St. Martin's Press, 1985
    The Promise of the New South, Edward L. Ayers
    Oxford University Press, 1992
    Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch
    Touchstone, 1988
    Race Matters, Cornel West
    Vintage, 1993
    The Serpent's Gift, Helen Elaine Lee
    Atheneum, 1994
    Children of Color, Jewelle Taylor Gibbs
    Jossey-Bass, 1989
    Mixed Blood: Intermarriage & Ethnic Identity, Paul Spickard
    University of Wisconsin Press, 1989
    Elbow Room, James Alan McPherson
    Scribner, 1978
    W.E.B. Du Bois: A Reader, edited by Andrew G. Paschal
    Collier, 1971
    Middle Passage, Charles Johnson
    Atheneum, 1990
    Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Enduring Legacy of African-American Families, Andrew Billingsley
    Touchstone, 1992

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