Books

When I Was White

When I Was White is a memoir by Sarah Valentine.

Sarah Valentine

At the age of 27, Sarah Valentine discovered that she was not, in fact, the white girl she had always believed herself to be. She learned the truth of her paternity: that her father was a black man. And she learned the truth about her own identity: mixed race.

And so Sarah began the difficult and absorbing journey of changing her identity from white to black. In this memoir, Sarah details the story of the discovery of her identity, how she overcame depression to come to terms with this identity, and, perhaps most importantly, asks: why? Her entire family and community had conspired to maintain her white identity. The supreme discomfort her white family and community felt about addressing issues of race — her race — is a microcosm of race relationships in America.

A black woman who lived her formative years identifying as white, Sarah's story is a kind of Rachel Dolezal in reverse, though her "passing" was less intentional than conspiracy. This memoir is an examination of the cost of being black in America, and how one woman threw off the racial identity she'd grown up with, in order to embrace a new one. (From St. Martin's Press)

Valentine is a writer, poet and translator from the U.S.

From the book

On my first day of school, my mother dressed me in a red plaid dress with a white top and an apple-shaped pocket. She pulled my hair into neat, tight pigtails with red plastic balls on the hairbands. She held my yellow raincoat so I could push my arms through the sleeves and steadied my galoshes so I could place my feet into them one at a time, my hands holding onto her shoulders for support. She handed me my Wonder Woman lunch box. Inside were a carefully wrapped sandwich, fruit and a cookie, a thermos filled with hot chocolate, and a napkin on which she had colored a sunny scene with flowers and bluebirds. You are my sunshine, it read.

She drove me to the bus stop in our blue station wagon in the rain. Fall leaves littered the street, disappearing into deep puddles. The rain rushed down the sidewalk gutters into the grates below the street. Looking out the window, I wondered where the dark grates led.

"Where does all the water go?" I asked my mom, but she had her eyes on the road: my little brother Patrick, who had just turned one, was in a car seat in the back.

I was five. My dad, who was at work, was twenty-six. My mom, already a mother of two, was twenty-five.


From When I Was White by Sarah Valentine ©2019. Published by MacMillan.

 

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