Saturday, May 2, 2020

Real American: A Memoir

Real American: A Memoir, by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Real American is a book, like Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, or Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, that all white people need to read...or even better, listen to, which is how I absorbed this beautiful and heart-breaking memoir. (And of course, people of color should read it too!)

If you are white, it will make you profoundly uncomfortable (a condition we white people need to feel a whole hell of a lot more often), and it will make you think and view the world differently and more sensitively, like the other two books.

Lythcott-Haims was born to a white (British) mother and a Black American father. All her life she never felt like she fit into either race, beginning in kindergarten when her friend asked, "What are you?" In high school, her best friend described her love of "Gone With the Wind" and told Lythcott-Haims that she thought of her as "normal," but not Black. Her locker was defaced with racist slurs on her birthday. These are just a few of the racist acts she experienced.

After being raised in an academically focused, cosmopolitan family, she attended Stanford University in the 1980s before earning her law degree at Harvard and an MFA in writing from the California College of the Arts. After working as the Dean of first-years at Stanford for 10 years, she wrote How to Raise an Adult, an acclaimed treatise on how not to helicopter parent.

Much of the book is about her growing-up years, and it's a love letter to her parents, neither of whom had easy lives. Her father eventually became a prominent pediatrician and served in Jimmy Carter's administration...but he made the decision to raise his family in predominantly white circles, which had a huge impact on her throughout her life.

In the second half of the book, as she ends up marrying a white Jewish man and becomes a mother herself, she comes to grips with her low self-esteem and lack of a sense of belonging. She elaborates on the constant microaggressions she and other people of color receive every day...even (and especially?) at fundraisers for her children's school when a few people show up in costume and blackface.

I urge you to read this unforgettable book. I just happened across it when I was looking for an audio book for a car journey, and I think it needs a lot more attention!