Assembly by Natasha Brown – Book
This little book, Assembly by Natasha Brown, packs a big wallop. Our narrator is unnamed, but we get to be inside her head. She is a Black woman living in London, a British citizen who White Brits still see as an interloper, a colonial intruder, easy to focus on as a person of color who cannot hide in the whiteness that Britain feels is its historical identity.
Our brilliant and disciplined lady had worked her way up from the bottom at her bank to a corner office, although she has to share it with a White contender who management does not want to slight. What has our winner had to give up to get here? She repeats the word “assimilation,” not with approval. She lives in a world of White folks now and there is money, security, savings, a fine apartment, the White boyfriend, son of a wealthy and famous politician. Her boyfriend intends to follow in his father’s footsteps. He mentions Bill DeBlasio whose Black wife probably helped him get elected in NYC. She, his Black girlfriend will be an asset.
She has been invited to come for the weekend to the family pile and to attend a party. So many wins in her life, but she is empty – cannot help feeling that her choice doesn’t fit her, doesn’t feed her soul (although, there is no talk of souls).
She is in hostile territory, judged by those who felt they deserved the win, that she was promoted only to help the bank appear diverse, a woman, a Black woman. She, on the other hand, feels no closeness, no warmth in her working life. Her coworkers at this level are mostly middle-aged White men with pallid skin and flabby bodies.
Even her personal life seems bleak and lonely. When she arrives at her boyfriend’s house, she is greeted warmly, but in the morning, when the mother and daughter are at work in the kitchen helping the caterers, the mother doesn’t include her in the camaraderie of the kitchen or give her a little job to do, instead she sends her off on a walk.
She, our narrator, observes her life; she doesn’t inhabit it. Her description of her potential mother-in-law chewing a piece of toast is mechanical, anatomical, and extremely unflattering. It reveals her position as an outsider. This is not just a class phenomenon, it’s about race.
Women who move up the career chain can relate to the loneliness of succeeding in a male world, but they do not have the added set of negative cultural experiences that Black people, and especially Black women, share as a sad legacy of past White cultural crimes. Our narrator has another challenge and how she is planning to deal with it is possibly tied into her fear that the winning may, in fact, be losing – a dynamic she chose, without realizing how empty it would make her feel. Terrible to think that our culture cannot find a warm place even when a Black person succeeds on terms White people define.
The style and flow of the prose in Assembly, the lack of prose structure, is part of this little book’s power. We need your voice, Natasha Brown, and your talent.