From the author of How to Raise an Adult, comes a fearless memoir of growing up a biracial black woman in America.
"Real American" Is a brutally honest personal account of how racism negatively permeated Julie Lythcott-Haims’s psyche and life, from childhood through adulthood. She further presents a case of how her story of suffering the effects of racism is not hers alone, but in many ways is reflective of what all people of color in America encounter and endure as well. The only child of a second marriage to her African-American father and her white British mother, Lythcott-Haims grew up in the 70s, looking more black than white with defining crown of kinky, curly hair. The family lived in several areas of the United States, including suburban New York, Virginia and Wisconsin. All were predominantly, if not entirely, white communities that were challenging for her to integrate into. She always felt isolated. She always felt like the other. She also was very aware as to how differently society regarded her father in contrast to her mother. This despite the fact that her father was an educated and accomplished academic that went on to work in the Carter administration. Despite the financial privilege her father’s success afforded her, the microaggressions she personally endured created low self-esteem that was a hard fought battle to dig out from. Throughout the memoir are unsettling intimate recollections like the following:
I accepted an offer of admission to Stanford University. A classmate, Harris, had applied to Stanford but had not gotten in... One day right after the bell rang signaling the end of class, Harris’s father walked in, sat down next to my desk, and began talking to me in a playful tone. “Sooo, you got into Stanford?”
I looked up at my friend Harris and silently asked, Why is your dad her? Then I replied. “Yes.”
“So, what were your SAT scores?”
“Do you think it’s fair that you got into Stanford over Harris when his scores were higher than that?”
Harris was not the president o the student council. Our grades were roughly the same. But I had stolen his spot at Stanford with my Blackness.
“Real American” is set up in chapters reflective of stages of her life and rapidly changing mindset. The titles range from earlier ones, like “An American Childhood” and “Becoming the Other,” to latter ones in more recent years, like “Declaring” and “Black Lives Matter.” By the second half of her story, Lythcott-Haims is not only professionally successful and personally confident, with a law degree working as a Stanford dean, she is a definitive source of encouragement to the minority students she shepherds through white established academia. She is also a mom to two bi-racial children of her own who she worries will also have a challenging time navigating through all white communities and racism that continues to run through America’s blood.
In December 2016 the prosecution of a white North Charleston, South Carolina police officer accused of shooting an unarmed Black man in the back ends in a mistrial. The officer shot Walter Scott in the back as Scott was running away and planted his taser next to Scott’s body, claiming he had stolen it from him. All this was caught on video. But one juror could not see... Dear America, What would you have me tell my son? Don’t drive, son? Don’t go to Walgreens, son? Don’t be ... What. Don’t be?
Despite the poignant, sometimes intense, topics addressed in "Real American," the format is decidedly approachable. Some chapters are as short as a few pages or a few paragraphs. Some read as poetry or as a journal entry. While on one hand it is in chronological order, on the other her stories seem stand-alone, vignette-like. You can read in order of beginning, middle and end, or you can land on any page at any time and comprehend, enjoy, be inspired.
Special Note: As awe-inspiring and life-affirming as it is to read "Real American," it is flat out life-changing to hear Julie Lythcott-Haims tell her story. If you ever get an opportunity to go to a lecture or reading by her, grab it! She is one of the most dynamic speakers out there, a writer to be heard, in addition to read.