Based on a True Story
From the writings of my mother,
Lemell “Mell” Studevent
(April 10, 1930 – October 5, 2018)
I once read that blue eyes were a mutation gone bad, and they are better equipped to see in the dark. I don’t know if that’s true, but a bunch of folks with blue eyes seem to have so much darkness inside of them. The first time I looked into a pair of them steel cold blue eyes, I nearly peed in my panties. The Klan had strung up my cousin Jesse from a tree, and three hooded Klansmen stared at me. I saw nothing but pure evil.
Sometimes, the evil in the world makes me question the existence of God, but all I gotta do is raise my tired eyes toward that beautiful blue sky above me or look at a picture of a royal blue ocean. Growing up in Mississippi, when the teacher asked the class how many of us liked the color blue, nearly all us nappy-headed country girls’ hands flew up including mine. My pencil thin, ashy arm nearly came right out my shoulder.
When coloring you had to guard the blue crayon with your life because it would for sure disappear the minute you turned your back. My favorite gospel song back in the day was Feelin’ Blue, which was sung by our church choir every Sunday. We even had our own music known as the Mississippi Blues. Back then I was too young to truly know about the blues, but like all us southern black folk, I would soon learn the true meaning of the word. It kinda bothered me that folks chose my favorite color to describe how they felt.
As I grew older, I wanted to disown blue as my favorite color because I believed that blue-eyed, white-skinned men hated us Negroes with a passion. There was proof all around. Years ago, there was that white man named John Wilkes Booth who murdered Abraham Lincoln, the man who freed us colored folks. In the 1900’s, blue-eyed, white-skinned men went crazy. That Hitler fella killed all them Jews and then Lee Harvey Oswald murdered our next Great White Hope, President Kennedy. Then Byron de la Beckwith killed civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Next, and the most painful, was that sinful joker named James Earl Ray who killed the greatest black man who ever lived, Martin Luther King. It sure does seem to me that blue-eyed, white-skinned men get a whole lotta pleasure killing black folk.
Now here’s a funny thing about black folks and blue eyes. Every black family I have ever known has the same painting of a white-skinned, blue-eyed Jesus mounted on a wall somewhere in their house. Black folks like to believe that Jesus’ picture somehow makes a house feel like a home. God tells us to forgive our enemies but these crazy blue-eyed men make it really hard for us black folk to turn the other cheek. I pray on my knees every night for the strength to forgive these evil people.
My grandmother, a former slave, always said that the Lord works in mysterious ways in order to help us overcome our weaknesses. Her words proved to be true when one day the good Lord saw fit to answer my prayers by way of a lil’ blue-eyed devil he sent to me. My life was forever changed.
“With Black Sheep I was facinated by the nuanced person story of racism, colorism, and identity in America.”
“Any thrill-seeking hunter or explorer who has ever ventured into the arctic and come face-to-face with the arresting image of blue wolf eyes peering through the dark from afar will attest to the unmistakably bone-chilling feeling they felt. Well into her twilight years, hazy from the grip of Alzheimer’s, Lemell Studevent comes face-to-face with a stranger possessing those same piercing blue eyes. And yet, they seem to belong to somebody who she knew intimately. Decades earlier, a widowed Lemell rescues a young blue-eyed, white-skinned Ray from abandonment and raises him as if he were her own. The oppressor’s blood mixes with that of the oppressed; privilege often abuts with the underclass, yet wisdom is always imparted. In the tumult of a mixed racial makeup, Ray overcomes confusion and self-hate, and ultimately finds redemption.”
“Racial identity is an ancient open wound on America’s skin. Black Sheep delves deep into the unforgiving and uninvited chaos that follows anyone of mixed race. In an honest and emboldened memoir, Ray Studevent reminds us how deep racist scars cut while proving the healing of a mother’s love.”
“Ray Studevent’s emotionally powerful memoir is an important story for the growing number of people in our country with multiracial and multicultural identities. Yet it speaks to universal themes of how we all yearn to find our place within our own families and in this world.”
“Black Sheep shatters the easy assumptions about race, forcing us to rethink how we see and treat one another––there’s no posturing for effect or convenient exit from our fears. Ray Studevent strikes at our comfort zones that feed our indifference, and with brilliant strokes inflames the ideas that separate and prevent us from respecting each other. He illuminates in authentic ways how our racism fragments society into the who’s and who’s nots; who is deserving of love and respect and those we consider below dispensation. Few other authors dare to attempt to wade into the gray area to dispatch the blinders that keep opposing sides in a perennial stalemate—Ray Studevent does so eloquently and convincingly.”
“Ray Studevent’s Black Sheep reads like a drama, comedy, tragedy, and spiritual all wrapped up into one book—only it is his real life! This is a story of gut-wrenching complexities: complex colorism; complex family history; and a complex journey to resolving the reality of being a Black man with white skin and blue eyes. Ray takes us behind the scenes of growing up as a mixed-race child and his struggle to find his identity. Grab your tissues.”