Book Review by Susan Graham
Real American: A Memoir
I read a review of Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims in The New York Times yesterday. It said Julie Lythcott-Haims’ new memoir is about growing up biracial. It’s not. It’s about growing up black.
If you want to get really angry, read this book. In fact, it should be required reading for anyone even thinking about being in an interracial relationship and especially parents of multiracial children. In so many ways, it’s a primer on what not to do. To me, as the mother of multiracial children—now adults—it is reassuring that I raised them to embrace their entire heritage.
Lythcott-Haims claims early in the book that her parents had entered into some type of “interracial child experiment that was failing.” Experiment? Would people actually do that? Throughout the book, the author lashes out at her parents—mostly her mother—for any number of ways they let her down and made her identify as black, but in other places, she is proud of her black identity. It’s confusing.
What is very clear is that this biracial woman felt she had to make a choice. She is crazy angry at everyone and everything, yet she doesn’t get that she could have embraced all of her incredibly stunning heritage and, perhaps, celebrated that. No, being biracial is not just a way to acknowledge her white mother, as she says; it is a way of acknowledging herself. She just couldn’t get there.
It angers me that this author didn’t do her homework. She glosses over the entire multiracial movement with an offhand comment about the Census Bureau making “new terms” in the 1990s, as if it was their idea and not that of the many parents who led the action to get the government to even consider counting people as more than one race. We were everywhere and I find it amazing that an interracial family would have been hiding under a rock big enough to miss it entirely.
The author is completely preoccupied with the color of her children, who she refers to as “quadroon children,” “Black,” and “mulatto.” To her, they are more colors than people, which I just don’t understand. That she is angry at the plight of black people in America and all over the world, is obvious—I’m just as angry about it! She would say that wasn’t possible because I’m not black. Not true. Black lives matter to me, too. Multiracial lives matter to me, as well.
Much of what Lythcott-Haims is trying to say is that what matters is how other people see you. If they see you as black, you are black. As my son told congress, it is how he sees himself that matters. Does he know other people see him as black? Absolutely. Interracial families are not blind and stupid. We teach our children about all of their cultures and how people might look at them and classify them on their personal color scale. We get it; we live it, too.
The one thing the author and I agree on is that racism will never go away and that is why everyone needs to read about those of us who have been through it. You’ll have to read about both sides, search your heart, make your own decisions, and neither the author nor I can make it for you. I respect that you may choose for your children to identify as only one race. I just wish more people would respect that they may choose to be multiracial.