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black & white
Lines were clearly drawn for woman growing up in biracial family

By Karen Bair The Herald
(Published July 20‚ 2003)

Her gestures are long and languid, reminiscent of an African-American preacher. Her speech rolls slowly off the tongue in Gullah, a black sea island dialect. Her sleeveless shell is a primal swirl of black and white, and pendulous hoops dangle from her ears.

"The only white piece of my world is when I look in the mirror," says Lynn Markovich Bryant, born in Michigan 47 years ago of white parents.

In a clinical study, her life would indicate that culture is learned, not genetic. In life, she is a warm, passionate, sometimes angry woman residing by choice in a predominately black world.

Her book title, "'I'm Black and I'm Proud,' wished the white girl," refers to her experience as the only white majorette at a mostly black school. As the band marched to James Brown's "I'm Black and I'm Proud," everyone sang.

Except for her. She wanted to, but didn't because she thought, "I can't. I'm white."

But she has been singing it in her heart ever since.

"I think of myself as black sometimes," she said. "I know culturally, I am. I won't wear anything that looks traditional white. I'm not trying to be black. This is the culture I was raised in."

Bryant will be selling and autographing copies of her book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the York County Library, 138 E. Black St., Rock Hill.

Her father died when she was 8, and her mother attended a Baha'i conference on the South Carolina sea island of St. Helena, a community settled by freed slaves. The Baha'i faith encourages oneness of all races, religions and nationalities.

On St. Helena, her mother met a black island widower, Elting Smalls. They married in 1968, and she, her three brothers and sisters and her mother moved to St. Helena. She was raised there with Smalls and his six African-American children. Her mother and Smalls had four biracial children.

When her maternal grandmother severed contact, it uprooted the granddaughter from her white heritage.

But the world saw her as white. When she enrolled in Beaufort County schools, she was sent to predominately white Beaufort Elementary, not to the nearby black St. Helena school.

It was a confusing year for a child who had never encountered prejudice. White children snubbed her because she was "a Yankee." She thrived in a black culture at home, so she sought black children at school and they accepted her.

When the school district sent papers saying she could choose between the two schools, there was no debate: She chose the black St. Helena school. Later, she attended an integrated Beaufort high school.

"Even there, I was that strange white girl who hangs with the black kids," she recalled. "My best friend was a black girl. I listened to black music and danced to it. I really never heard much rock 'n' roll until I went to Clemson."

At Clemson University, she studied education, earned a master's degree and dated black men. Her college love, a black football player, eventually broke her heart because he couldn't handle the prejudice.

Today she teaches fourth- and fifth-graders at St. Helena school, the same school she attended in the '60s and about 97 percent black now.

"The children I teach," she said, "most of them think I'm a light-skinned black. If I tell them I'm white, they're shocked. Some of them are hurt. So I ask them, 'Well, you still like me, don't you?' They say yes."

They question why white women clutch their purses when they pass by, and she blames it on the movies. She urges her students to seek people of other cultural backgrounds when the opportunity arises, to speak out when their friends make racist remarks.

She married an African-American, Beaufort-stationed Marine, Wilbert Bryant, 22 years ago and they have two sons, and she has a black stepdaughter.

"If I married a white man, it would be an intercultural marriage," she said.

She recently went to see the film, "Bringin' Down the House," starring Queen Latifa and Steve Martin, and detached herself as she observed the very different reactions of blacks and whites in the audience.

Her biracial sons have responded to race issues somewhat differently, too, she notes.

Her oldest son, Jack, had friends from both races when he was younger, but by the time he graduated from high school, his friends were almost exclusively black. Now he attends Clemson.

"He's very happy because he says they think he's black at Clemson," she said. "He says, 'They don't think I'm biracial'."

"I call it the fence," she added. "You gotta decide which side of the fence you're on. My son has been forced to choose."

Her younger son, Gregory, 13, attends Ladies Island Middle School.

"He likes to identify with a multi-racial culture," she said. "He asks me why I listen to all black music. He tells me I need to be more multi-racial."

She watches BET, subscribes to Ebony and Jet magazines and decorates her home with African artwork.

And she admits to some prejudice. "Sometimes when I meet someone with a really strong Southern accent, I automatically think they are a bigot. Or if I hear country music."

Friends encouraged her to write the book. In the writing, she realized her Baha'i faith has had a major influence on her life.

She believes the wounds of racism some day will heal. "I don't know how long it will take. Young people today aren't into causes. Our society is into materialism."

She longs for it, hopefully in her lifetime.

"I just want to be my own race," she pleads. "Can't I just be Lynn?"

Contact Karen Bair at 329-4080 or

Want to go?

Lynn Markovich Bryant, author of "'I'm Black and I'm Proud,' wished the white girl," will read, discuss and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the York County Library, 138 E. Black St., Rock Hill.

The book, published by iUniverse Inc., costs $17.95 and will be sold. The event is free and open to the public. For information, call 981-5837 or visit

The autobiography is the story of Bryant's upbringing on South Carolina's St. Helena Island during the 1960s and '70s in a biracial family.

©Copyright 2003, The Herald (South Carolina, USA)

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