This week I read ‘A Drop of Midnight’ by Jason Diakité. Jason is a Swedish rapper, the son of two Americans (White mother and Black father), and was born and raised in Sweden. I was attracted to the book because I thought it would focus on Jason’s life in Sweden as a Black man. I was disappointed that the majority of the book focuses on Jason’s distant Black family in the US, on his father’s side.
In the book, Jason discusses his struggle in discovering his identity as a multi-racial Swede. He mentions his journey to accept the color of his skin and other visual features that make him appear different from White Swedes.
“But many people still observe, analyze, and explain this world and themselves through the lens of whiteness. Myself included, for so long.” -Jason Diakité
The tragedy of this book is that it feels like Jason is in the very beginning stages of his journey to remove his own lens of whiteness. The bulk of the book focuses on Jason’s attempt to understand his father’s family in the US (with whom he’s had a limited connection). He relies on letters, stories told by his father, and a brief visit to the US to paint a picture of poverty and hopelessness for his Black family in the US, and extends this to generalizations of Black Americans. He frequently quotes African American authors and scholars to explain these conditions he describes as poverty, obesity, and crime.
Jason’s father is quoted in the book as saying “What are you going to write in your book? That we were all slaves who picked cotton, or what? That we were a gang of poor wretches who didn’t know any better? Write about our dignity and our struggle instead. Write about the positive aspects. Our achievements. Our merits. This whole house is full of diplomas that demonstrate my merits. Why aren’t you interested in that?”
Unfortunately, Jason seems obsessed with the former. Jason’s father is a human rights lawyer and filmmaker according to Wikipedia (not mentioned in the book). Jason only shares that his father came to Sweden for free education and frequently quotes him to seem like a stubborn older man, emotionally damaged by racism and bad parenting. I’m not sure if this framing is intentional or if something was lost when the book was translated from Swedish to English.
As a Black American, I’m certain I am not the intended audience for this book. Unfortunately, this book misses the mark on multiple levels. For anyone looking to read a book about growing up in Scandinavia as a Black person, this is not a book that addresses it. For anyone looking to read about the Black experience in the US and the impact of racism, there are a lot of better books written by Black American authors who can provide a better perspective.