In a text that resembles a memoir, a prose poem, and an album of verbal snapshots, a writer from a mixed racial background chronicles her journey—and battle—to understand her racial identity.
Lythcott-Haims (How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, 2015), who holds a variety of academic degrees (including Harvard Law), writes about her girlhood and youth as the daughter of a black father and a white mother. Her father was a very successful man, a doctor who served as an assistant surgeon general, and her mother would earn a doctorate, as well. The author grew up in mostly white neighborhoods, an experience that delayed her determination to define and identify herself as a black woman. In a series of numbered sections whose lengths vary from a few pages to a few words, Lythcott-Haims tells not only the story of her life and considerable accomplishments, but also about current—and relatively current—issues, from the elections of Presidents Obama and Trump to the spate of police shootings of young black men. Her son is now a teen, and she, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, to whom she refers several times, worries deeply about his safety. Occasionally, the author offers lines of poetry, especially at the conclusion of a section, and her verse is blunt and stark: “We continue to try to forgive. / To live.” The author also poignantly describes the assorted indignities she has endured, from attending an event at a child’s school where she saw characters in blackface to resisting a Stanford colleague, a woman who fondled her hair in a meeting. She also writes affectionately about her white husband of many years—though she wonders at times what it would have been like to be married to a black man.
Many potent and painful reminders that we have a long, long way to go regarding race and identity.