Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room

Non-Fiction - Memoir
83 Pages
Reviewed on 02/22/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite

Reading a little like a biography of many but a memoir of one, Blindsided is a powerful collection of essays reflecting on past events and their emotional, psychological, and intellectual impact on author Dawn Downey. But, after the striking opening chapter, readers will quickly see this short book not as essays, but only as a memoir: Downey has so skillfully blended the genres that one gets caught up in the story, the events, and characters, of both her past and present.

An African-American, Downey has been fighting a life-long internal war with her heritage: try as she might, and despite the fact that today she is an educated, successful woman accepted in “white” circles, she can’t seem to stop negatively interpreting and reflecting on the often innocent looks, words, and actions of others…from shopkeepers to colleagues. The events of her school days…the name-calling, the put-downs thanks to the not-quite white color of her skin and her tightly kinked curls, so perfectly captured in that opening chapter…have left her scarred on the deepest level: she can never quite forget her Negro background and is almost desperate to divorce herself from it. In short, despite how successful she has been in her career, inside she is still a little African-American girl, ever mindful of how her people have suffered, and sadly, continue to suffer today. It’s impossible to read Blindsided without feeling her pain.

I cannot encourage readers enough to read Blindsided. There is much written these days about PTSD in relation to vets and abuse victims: this is about the PTSD that many black people feel daily. It’s eye-opening and chilling. At the end of Blindsided, Dawn Downey lists the names of so many of today’s black victims of racial abuse. Those are the ones who have made headlines like Brionna Taylor. But what about the others whose stories go unread? Dawn Downey speaks for them and as she does, she “prompts us to consider how we find our authentic selves in the heart of our discomfort." By doing so, her closing message is one of hope.