It goes without saying that race is a hot topic right now. Between protests, demonstrations and boycotts, there’s no escaping the reality that race is an issue that cannot be ignored or trivialized. I tend to look at race from a very basic point of view and I was excited to read Julie Lythcott-Haims’ Real American: A Memoir to expand my perspective.
In Real American: A Memoir, Lythcott-Haims shares what its like to be a biracial woman in America. As the only child of a marriage between a black man and a white British woman, Lythcott-Haims often struggled with her personal identity and self-esteem.
In this book, she shares personal memories and feelings as she came of age in a society that was not completely accepting of her. Although her father was a prominent physician, he was mistaken for a gardener. Her mother had no idea how to style her hair. All of these occurrences had an effect on what it meant to be black, in her eyes.
She desperately wanted to learn how to be black, not realizing (in my opinion) that she was black all along.
As a black woman with traces of French blood running through my own body, I often feel embarrassed to even acknowledge that I’m “something” other than black. It’s almost as if if you’re black, you can’t be anything else. It’s living with a feeling that you have to choose a side because nothing else matters. A feeling that you can’t be curious about your non-black ancestry for fear of being labeled as someone who didn’t want to be black. Lythcott-Haims discusses the standards that are in place for Black people from their counterparts and then there are standards that “others” measure you up against. She experienced a lot of “failure emotions” as she tried to live up to what (she thought) the standards of being a Black teenager were.
My overall takeaway (and personal experience) is that being black is pretty damn exhausting. The true power and beauty of your heritage comes from how you define and live by it, not by what others say it is.