Blind Spot by Myriam Tadessé translated by Gila Walker
Myriam Tadessé is an actress of mixed Ethiopian-French origin. She tells her story in order to reveal what it like being mixed-race in contemporary France. In particular, as an actress, she constantly faces into the dilemma of looking either too white to play a black person or too black to be consider for a role as a white woman.
At the heart of Tadessé’s book is the word métis. As I started to read I felt that a translator’s note would have been helpful to know exactly how the term is applied for mixed-race, half-breed, all the way to bastard or mongrel. But as I continued to read I saw that these varied translations were at the heart of the book and that Tadessé would gradually reveal more to us. We would understand how much of a slur it is to be called a métis and therefore exactly what if would mean to hear it from the mouth of her mother. It is this inability to see that give the book its title.
“‘Where are you from?’
‘My mother’s French and my father’s Ethiopian.’
…Is the state of being métis a blind spot?”
This is not a book filled with anger at the situation, as Tadessé says “It used to amuse me considerably that no one in France can peg me to a specific identity. I would change countries as often as people change underwear, depending on the projections of my interlocutors: Iranian, Caribbean, Indian, Brazilian, Maghrebi, Fulani, Mauritanian, everywhere except Ethiopian and French, naturally.”
It takes us 66 pages before we really start to get answers and so emerge from our own blind spot; “Métis has changed status. From an adjective, it has become a noun. It no longer describes a person, it is the person, which amounts to removing or replacing the person. The métis as such does not exist, all that exists is the product of crossbred races.” She continues “The undefined colour of my skin was sweeping away my dreams, projects, efforts as if by a tsunami, when I thought I was meeting artists and being judged on the merits of my talents as an actor. Feather after feather, I had no choice but to fold my wings.”
“What was it to me to be Ethiopian or French when my interior mapping had been torn apart? My perception of both countries is inseparable from the revolution, precisely because I’m from here and from there, and therefore displaced, with each country speaking of the absence of the other, of the impossibility of being in both at the same time.”
The revolution that took place in Ethiopia led to the imprisonment of her father and forced the her to return to France with her mother. The years of enforced separation helped to bring her parents closer together. Before that her mother had to struggle as a single parent, constantly moving from flat to flat, constantly uprooting their small family unit. When her father was released from prison and the family was reunited in France, Tadessé felt that he wanted to keep her away from the wounds of his old country. At the same time it was like denying her part of her own heritage.
One of the tensions which comes out most clearly from the book is that Tadessé does not recognise herself in the term métis. For a long time she does not understand the fuss that is being made. She is just another girl among many. She feels part of everything, and it is a long time before she truly understands the exclusion that is happening around her.
Reviewer: Marcus Hobson
Published by Gazebo Books, RRP $33