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When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided By Race
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When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided By Race

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  326 ratings  ·  63 reviews
During the worst years of official racism in South Africa, the story of one young girl gripped the nation and came to symbolize the injustice, corruption, and arbitrary nature of apartheid. Born in 1955 to a pro-apartheid Afrikaner couple, Sandra Laing was officially registered and raised as a white child. But when she was sent to a boarding school for whites, she was merc ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 4th 2007 by Miramax Books
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Sandra's story is very important and needs to be told. The only reason I gave this 2 stars instead of 1 is because it helped put her story out there.

I don't like reading stories that say, "this is how I'm going to tell the story. This is what I looked at." Tell the story. Footnote the resources. Don't distract from the story but forcing stuff all about yourself/the author and how hard you worked on the book. You are stealing the story from Sandra.

The author's unhidden judgments and poorly hidden
Steph Fisher
This biography examines the history of South Africa's systematic racism while telling the story of Sandra Lang, a national symbol of the cruelties of apartheid. Although I loved the story of Sandra and felt the horror of what she endured, I was not impressed with the author, Judith Stone. She was too present in the story, too much a character in the way of the real events going on behind her. She over-analyzes Sandra's every decision and feeling. She meanders through the events and repeats herse ...more
It's amazing people will focus so much negative energy on something that is so trivial as someone's looks and the color of their skin. I almost didn't finish reading this book, especially the beginning when Sandra Laing's parents were fighting to keep her classified as a white person. But I am glad I hung in there because it got better. You really get an understanding of how racism affects a person mentally and physically and the many ways they defend themselves against racism. Till this day, La ...more
After I saw the provocative movie "Skin", I had a lot of questions, which is why I read this book. I was also interested in learning a little more history of South Africa than the movie provided. Ultimately, the book was disappointing, not because of the writing or research, but because Sandra Laing's story is an imperfect vehicle to discuss racism and what happens when a technologically advanced culture conquers a less advanced culture.

Not unsurprisingly, the story is much more complex than th
The life of Sandra Laing can be described as tragic, impossible and unqiuely South African. I first heard of Sandra Laing and this biography by Judith Stone while reading an issue of Essence magazine over the holidays. The story of a South African woman born to white parents who was born white, later classified by the government as "coloured" and thrown out of school at age ten. Only to be reclassifed as white 18 months or so later and then as a runaway teen with older black boyfriend wanting an ...more
Stephanie Crockett
Jul 26, 2007 Stephanie Crockett rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Two races of people: "those who don't admit their African heritage, and those who do."
Even though I know how interracial and interrelated we all are, I love reading books that are clear examples of that. 'When She Was White' is the true story about a black girl, born in South Africa to white parents during the height of apartheid. White parents who believed in and supported the segregated system. White parents who didn't acknowledge their daughter's curly hair or darker skin, and who had no desire to change the apartheid laws to protect her. White parents who wanted the governmen ...more
Wendy Wanderer
I really didn't care for this book. Supposedly this is the story of how the absurd practice of racial classification in South Africa caused the subject's many troubles.

Instead we have a long tale of the author's interaction with Sandra. Certainly we can take Sandra's many troubles, financially, with men, with "the system" and link them to early and ongoing confusion about her identity in a country where identity is so entirely linked to racial classification. However the author made no effort.
This story made me angry (if I could underline that I would) and yet the story of Sandra Laing should be read. I think it's important to understand how humans can use science, pride, and lies to completely take away basic human rights. This story happened less than 50 years ago. The mentality that allowed this story to happen still persists. Read this book. Read the footnotes also. Thanks for sending it to me Micah.
Disappointing; fascinating story, but the wholly intrusive presence of the author kept me from finishing it. Book club book.
 Gloria Maria  Vazquez
Sandra Laing was born and raised in apartheid South Africa, the black daughter of Afrikaner (white) parents. Her story is chronicled in Judith Stone's book; When She was White. Sandra, was declared "white" by the South African govt, even though she clearly was not. Her story of being raised by white parents in a very racist South Africa is heartbreaking and touching. Sandra is caught between two worlds -- the white Afrikaner world of her parents, and the black culture that accepts her and loves ...more
During the worst years of official racism in South Africa, the story of one young girl gripped the nation and came to symbolize the injustice, corruption, and arbitrary nature of apartheid. Born in 1955 to a white Afrikaner couple, Sandra Laing was officially registered and raised as a white child. Her parents attributed Sandra's appearance to an interracial union far back in history; they swore Sandra was their child. Their neighbors, however, thought Mrs. Laing had committed adultery with a bl ...more
Margaret Sankey
Another thread's conversation about the construction of race led me to locate this book. In 1955 Apartheid South Africa, a very pro-segregation white Boer couple has a daughter...with dark skin and curly hair. For the rest of her life, this fact will torment the family--is it interracial mixing far back in the family tree? The neighbors blame her mother for having an affair. The father is forced to question his defense of the regime when his daughter is forced out of a white boarding school. Man ...more
This is a well written and I believe "fair" book - in that it makes clear that no one has the real story - from Sandra, to her parents, to her brothers, to the people who left her dangling between cultures.

Stone documents the irregularities in Sandra's memories and backs them up with published explanations and professional opinions - as to how this might be true (that Sandra cannot remember a fact, or grasp a evident concept) and not a fabrication or a deliberate misdirection.

This book illustr
When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race is a powerful work about one child’s coming-of-age during the apartheid in South Africa, and the problems her physical appearance brings. Sandra Laing was born to white parents but looked like a black child. She was removed from her whites-only school, declared to be colored, then declared to be white again, and back and forth for most of her life. Judith Stone includes many details about the apartheid and history of South Africa as ...more
An interesting story, and one that’s worth a better book than this - the writing is so poor that it’s almost impossible to pay attention – surely a decent editor should have caught things like the fact that 1994 – 2000 is a span of six years and not four, or that quotes don’t need to be attributed both before *and* after the quotation (“Kobus says…. .say Kobus”). Not to mention all the silly little errors like - there’s a comic strip mentioned on the last page of the book and apparently the auth ...more
Christy Hart
Aug 04, 2007 Christy Hart rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Lara
We read Cry, the Beloved Country about South Africa and that was my first real introduction to the country. This book is set in the South Africa of the 1960's and I cried over the description of the lives of blacks under apartheid.

The author subtly shows how racism is passed through generations; the children of the whites mimic and carry on the racism of their parents. I was shocked that while the whites were intent on classifying race, there was a fluidity that allowed them to change their min
This is a heartbreaking story about one of the many victims of South Africa's apartheid system. Sandra Laing's "racial classification" was officially changed three times, and she was expelled from her all-white school because her skin was too dark, though both her parents are classified as white. Unlike many biographies which try to put a happy ending onto the life of someone still living, Judith Stone is very honest with her readers. We get to see the psychological toll that her difference take ...more
This tells the tale of a South African family caught up in the legal wranglings of apartheid during the 1960's and through til today. Their only daughter was classified as "colored" which actually meant they couldn't send her to her brother's school, couldn't eat at restaurants with her, couldn't attend movies with her etc. Her parents vehemently denied that anyone other than the two of them were her biological mom and dad. The psychological damage that is done to the girl is unimaginable. When ...more
This book was recommended to me by my good friend, Mary, and so far seems very interesting. It's the true story of a girl born to a white family in South Africa during apartheid and what happened when the state classified her as "coloured" despite her parents both being classified as white.

*** update ***

I finished the book over the weekend and found it quite interesting. At times I felt a bit like it was a tabloid exposing this woman's life. But overall I feel it is a good window into the arbitr
After seeing the recently released, Skin, I had to know more about Sandra Laing. Laing grew up in an Afrikaner family during the heyday of apartheid. Although she was born to white parents, physically she appeared biracial. Under the laws of the time, Sandra was classified first as white, then as coloured, then back to white, and finally as coloured. Crazed laws/social policies will eventually drive people to act irrationally,

In addition to Sandra's story, the book addresses life under apartheid
Jesse Pearson
this book is a bit to slow for me
Apr 20, 2014 Susan marked it as abandoned
Nothing is particularly wrong with this book, but it wasn't quite what I expected or wanted to read. I was looking for more of a history of apartheid with this story as the framework. Instead, it was a more intimate portrait of Sandra Laing's life with a bit of apartheid and South Africa history thrown in.

I also found Laing's lack of memory to be problematic. She truly doesn't remember or want to remember certain details of her childhood, and Stone fills in the gaps and assumes a bit too often f
Oct 15, 2008 Justin rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who like being bored
Recommended to Justin by: Hilary
Apartheid was terrible. This lady suffered tremendously because of it. These are things that one can learn from various history books, documentaries, and wikipedia entries that are far more interesting than this book. On the "books that co-workers forced me to read" scale, I give this a 1 out of 10. (hopefully I successfully navigated the SWPL rules and offended no one with that review...oh, who am I kidding... go ahead and BE OFFENDED!!! My gift to you.).
May 25, 2010 Julie marked it as books-i-gave-up-on
Shelves: africa, non-fiction, women
This woman's story exposes the farce that was apartheid in a unique way - she was born into a white family but looked "coloured" and was thus reclassified by the government of South Africa, resulting in her having dramatically less rights than her family. It was actually against the law for her to live with them as anything but a servant, to sit with them in public, etc. I'm definitely finding this fascinating.
One day in So. Africa a little girl woke up 'white' and went to bed classified 'black.' In South Africa that meant she would have fewer rights and opportunities than her white biological family. This book examines the unjust practice of appartheid, and how it tore one family apart. Though I found the information interesting, I thought the book was so badly written I can't give it more than three stars.
This was difficult to read because of the attitudes of racism so deep that her own family had difficulty with her ethnicity. Sad.
Barbara Lovejoy
After watching the movie SKIN I wanted to read this book--a book about the same girl, Sandra Laing, and her family in South Africa. The story is heartbreaking yet still filled with hope. It is also an important reminder to be aware of the stories of others. They not only teach us much about them but also much about ourselves.
Fascinating and horrifying true story. The book is rather disjointed and could have used a firm editor. Very hard to imagine that this type of insane racism took place and is still taking place...

The movie SKIN was what drew me to the sad story of Saundra Laing... this is one instance where I would recommend the movie over the book.
Mary Beth
Very interesting perspective of race issues in Apartheid South Africa. Very educational for me as I really didn't know about race classification and the arbitrariness of the process.

Also explores a little of what rejection and heartache can do to a person's psyche and the "survival skills" some develop to just live with the pain.
A true story of how one girl, born of white parents but appearing mixed race (most likely due to race mixing in generations past) grew up in South African under apartheid. A disturbing portrait of a family ripped apart and an examination of how stupid and cruel attempting to classify people into racial categories can be.
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