Intended: A Marriage in Black and White by Sharon Nesbit-Davis

Reviewed by Lauren Brandmeier

Intended by Sharon Nesbit-Davis is a deeply moving and thought-provoking memoir. Nesbit-Davis has an extraordinary way of guiding readers through defining moments of anger, terror, disbelief, and despair. It is often easy to forget that the events of Nesbit-Davis’ very real life were not actually fiction.

Nesbit-Davis’ memoir focuses primarily on the navigation of severe racism in 1960s-1990s American Midwest. In the rawest and most heart-wrenching moments, readers see authentic glimpses into the post-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. era. Nesbit-Davis constantly reminds us of what it was really like—of what it is really like—to be Black in America.

Nesbit-Davis’ relationship with George shows her firsthand the disparities Black people faced daily in this time period: renting and housing discrimination, segregated neighborhoods, blatant slurs, and the difficulty of being socially accepted. Nesbit-Davis discovers that in all-white apartment communities, a Black man’s lease application must be approved by every resident before it is accepted. Her white friends are scared to visit her family’s home in a predominantly non-white neighborhood and suggest installing better locks and a security system. She is mocked and ridiculed for her friendships with Black people from the time she is a young child all the way through adulthood. She and George wait five years for her parents’ approval of their relationship and their consent, required by their religion, for them to marry. 

Possibly the most admirable trait of Nesbit-Davis’ memoir is her willingness to open up to her readers about her own struggles with prejudice. She wants to prove to herself and others that the common notions about Black people are wrong. She wants, in her words, to “prove to herself that she is not prejudiced.” Her efforts to dismantle these notions are certainly admirable, yet in some instances Nesbit-Davis finds herself in serious, frightening situations. However, she makes clear to readers that this is not because of her abusers’ race—it is because of her unwavering trust in those who surround her. She trusts people to be kind, as she is, and to respect her, as she does. Nesbit-Davis then finds someone taking advantage of her, and readers feel sorrow for the things that have been taken from her.

The American dream may be different for everyone, but Nesbit-Davis finally gets hers in the end: a three-story house big enough to host Thanksgiving dinner, a fenced-in yard for the kids and the dog, a friendly and diverse neighborhood, and stable work in a career that she loves. Yet, knowing everything Nesbit-Davis has witnessed, readers cannot help but to feel a sad sort of happiness for her and her family.

In a cruel world where everything can go wrong (and most things do), it is truly comforting to know that by the time her memoir comes to a close, Nesbit-Davis feels contentment with the reality she has created, the life she has lived, and the life she will continue to cherish in her little Midwestern corner of the world.

Lauren Brandmeier is a Milwaukee native, graduate of Carroll University, and graduate student at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She keeps busy nowadays by teaching an online composition class and working as a barista on the side. Lauren currently lives in Milwaukee and hopes to start her career as a professional writer once she graduates with her Master’s degree.

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