Independent film and TV producer Marra B. Gad is no stranger to these parts. A Baltimore Hebrew University graduate who is now based in Los Angeles, she will return to Charm City on Mar. 31 as part of a book tour for her debut memoir, “The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl” (Agate Bolden), which came out last November. Her talk in a private Owings Mills residence is part of the Hadassah Brandeis Institute’s Conversations Series.
“It’s time for my story to be told,” says Gad, 49. “I am the unicorn of my generation. I don’t know anyone my age that is biracial and Jewish. Growing up, I was the lone brown face in a sea of Ashkenazi faces.”
Gad’s biological mother was 19, unmarried, white and Jewish; her biological father was African-American. When the New York-born Gad was only three days old, a white Jewish family from Chicago adopted her, something that was fairly uncommon in the early 1970s.
“Today, there would have been a bidding war for a baby that looked like me, but that’s not how it was in the ‘70s,” says Gad. “Adoptions were kept quiet, and people were looking for babies who looked like them so they didn’t have to explain. The rabbi [involved in the adoption process] didn’t know I was going to be biracial and called my parents when I was born and said they didn’t have to take me.”
Gad’s adoptive parents told the rabbi that she was their baby and took her home to the Windy City.
“From the moment my parents brought me back, there was chaos,” says Gad. “With the exception of my mother, father and bubbie, most people in our family had something to say. The rabbi involved with the adoption even called me ‘a mistake.’”
Shortly after the adoption, Gad’s adoptive mother ended up getting pregnant. Today, Gad has a sister who is 21 months younger and a brother who is 10 years younger.
“When my sister was born, there were family members who would treat us differently,” Gad says. “But no one who treated us differently was welcome in our house, and my parents would unapologetically cut people out of our lives on a regular basis.”
The first section of “The Color of Love” delves into Gad’s childhood and family dynamics, while the second part is devoted to her relationship with a great-aunt.
“My Great-Aunt Nette made a terrible scene at my sister’s wedding,” Gad recalls. “She had never before attacked me in front of anyone else. … But at the wedding she let her racism be known, and there was no space to allow her back into our lives.”
Years later, however, Gad’s mother received a call from a facility where Nette was living. As one of Nette’s only living relatives, Gad decided to check in on her great-aunt, who had Alzheimer’s disease.
“I saw the substandard level of care she was getting, and I couldn’t leave her there,” says Gad. “We didn’t just welcome her back with open arms but she was in trouble, so I made the choice to be kind.”
Jmore recently spoke to Gad about her book and life.
Jmore: Why did you decide to choose kindness when it came to your great-aunt?
Gad: If I had left my Great-Aunt Nette at the facility she was in, it would have been an act of vengeance. I am not wired that way, and I am proud of that. I know what it feels like to be loved, and I know what it feels like to be truly hated. I won’t be someone who puts more hate into the world.
Did it take time for you to get to a place of wanting to live a life of love?
Racism is a form of abuse and no human being deserves to be abused. I have been in therapy longer than some people have been alive. I believe everyone has a part of his or her story that is challenging, and this is mine.
But after a lot of work, I decided I wanted to live a beautiful life and dragging around pain and anger wasn’t something I was going to choose. In regards to my great-aunt, she had Alzheimer’s and that made her forget she was racist. It goes back to that choice — living a life of love is a choice, but also living a life of hate is a choice. Alzheimer’s stripped away that ability to choose; it stripped away my aunt’s hate and left her loving.
Inheritance is a theme that runs through the book.
The only thing I know I inherited genetically is the way I physically look. Everything else has been inherited from my family. I hope I inherited my bubbie’s way of entertaining and sense of style. From my father, who passed away when I was 19, I hope I inherited his unbelievably open heart. My mother is incredibly fierce and loyal, and I hope some of my fierceness comes from her.
And from my Great-Aunt Nette, I inherited my sense of self. I know who I am when faced with what to do when someone who has been hateful needs help. I know how powerful being loving and kind can be.
Some people confuse being loving with being soft, but that’s not that case. Love and kindness are superpowers, not weaknesses.
Do you detect a change in societal attitudes over the decades?
The issue people have had with my existence has been the same since I was born. The only difference now is there is a level of aggression that I have never felt before. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, and many times I’m told I look threatening because some people think black people are threatening. That is racism to its core.
There is a sense of threat that creates fear and misunderstanding, and racism stems from that. A lot of times, what happens at my book talks are non-combative, honest discussions about intolerance and racism. I think we all leave them changed for the better, or at least I hope so. I believe in civil discourse, and by talking about things we can learn to create comfort. This is a topic I will never be quiet about again.
Do you feel that racism is taught?
I believe racism is something we are passing down from generation to generation. I didn’t know I looked different from my parents until I was six years old, when a classmate told me I looked different. She likely got that narrative from her parents. Children come into this world loving, and I’m here to be as loving as I can.
Do you feel a sense of belonging now?
I belong everywhere I want and choose to be. There are Jewish people who are uncomfortable because I am mixed-race, and there are black people who are uncomfortable because I am Jewish. I have done a lot of work to be deeply grounded in who I am.
I am black and white and Jewish. That is whole for me. I am going to be happy and celebrate my beauty and wholeness. I will never let anyone take that from me.
Why tell your story now?
I have a niece who is adopted and biracial, and I see younger faces that look more like mine. I was the only one growing up, so I am grateful this younger generation is not alone.
This is a story that needed to be told, and these are conversations I have wanted to have for 30 years. I believe society is more ready now because the world has become more diverse and the Jewish community is more diverse. There was this window that if I was ever going to speak, it had to be now because people were listening.
In Hollywood, where I work, people were starting to look for new stories including stories like mine. People started telling me my story. One person even called me a tragic mulatto girl who needed to search for her biological family. That couldn’t be more opposite of my story, and it became apparent if I didn’t tell it someone else would and they would do a terrible job.
I wrote this book because I wanted to have control over my own story and tell it so it was true. I have a wonderful family and believe I chose this family for a reason. I just needed to grow somewhere else.
For information about Marra B. Gad’s talk in Baltimore, visit https://www.brandeis.edu/hbi/programs/conversations/index.html
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