A fearless debut memoir in which beloved and bestselling How to Raise an Adult author Julie Lythcott-Haims pulls no punches in her recollections of growing up a biracial black woman in America.
Bringing a poetic sensibility to her prose to stunning effect, Lythcott-Haims briskly and stirringly evokes her personal battle with the low self-esteem that American racism routinely inflicts on people of color. The only child of a marriage between an African-American father and a white British mother, she shows indelibly how so-called "micro" aggressions in addition to blunt force insults can puncture a person's inner life with a thousand sharp cuts. Real American expresses also, through Lythcott-Haims's path to self-acceptance, the healing power of community in overcoming the hurtful isolation of being incessantly considered "the other."
The author of the New York Times bestselling anti-helicopter parenting manifesto How to Raise an Adult, Lythcott-Haims has written a different sort of book this time out, but one that will nevertheless resonate with the legions of students, educators and parents to whom she is now well known, by whom she is beloved, and to whom she has always provided wise and necessary counsel about how to embrace and nurture their best selves. Real American is an affecting memoir, an unforgettable cri de coeur, and a clarion call to all of us to live more wisely, generously and fully.
Julie Lythcott-Haims is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult and Real American. She holds a BA from Stanford University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and an MFA from California College of the Arts. She resides in the Bay Area with her partner, their two itinerant young adults, and her mother.
A powerful and disturbing read. This brave and bare memoir moved me deeply as a daughter, wife and mother. More, it rightly shook my sense of surety that I'm not racist and made me feel outright uncomfortable and challenged as a white woman. It's a book that demands America, and each and every one of us, confront conscious and unconscious racism. It's a stirring call to "take an interest in the experience of the other" and be "on the side of humans mattering." This book rattled me. I believe time will show that it changed me, too.
Julie Lythcott-Haims is the daughter of a white British mother and an African-American father, and her memoir is basically a book-length reckoning with her complicated identity. She was raised in mostly white communities and attended elite universities, and she struggled in both places to fit in with either her white or black classmates. Her relationship with her mother has been strained at times because as much as her mother might want to understand where Julie is coming from, she’ll never fully know her experience. Growing up, Julie’s relationship with her father carried its own baggage, as she noticed how differently they were treated if her mother wasn’t with them. When they first moved into a new house in a fancy suburb, their neighbors thought her father was the gardener.
I love listening to authors read their own work, and Lythcott-Haims is a fantastic reader. Her voice brings intensity, emotion, and beneath it all, an unyielding dignity.
"Real American" is riveting from beginning to end. Despite a wildly successful academic and then professional career, Julie Lythcott-Haims has spent a lifetime struggling with race and identity. As the daughter of an African American father (the direct descendant of slaves) and a white British mother, Lythcott-Haims found herself torn between two worlds, neither of which she found particularly comfortable. "Real American" explores the evolution of how Lythcott-Haims has dealt with her own race and identity over the years. That exploration is honest and raw and often raises as many questions as it answers. But the journey is engaging and thought-provoking, and deeply satisfying. "Real American" will be discussed in classrooms and at the dinner table for many years to come.
So disappointed in this book. Of course it is terrible to read of many of the unfair things and situations that this woman endured (particularly growing up). That said...
1) Did not like the writing style. Was like a long manuscript of a stand up comic with the punch line being some bad racial situation - sometimes one liners (one liner "chapters") and others longer stories.
2) This woman was the Dean of Freshmen at Stanford at a time that I was on campus as a graduate student. Her "gripes" - I don't know if all were justified. Stanford and Palo Alto are the whitest places I've ever lived/experienced (and I am a white female) - I was happy to leave. I also didn't feel like I fit in as a female student in my male majority MBA class - I can't even imagine the plight of a non white female. She didn't have a PhD - which often held by academics at all colleges/universities - she could have gotten one -and come back and competed on an equal playing field. I definitely would have been frustrated as a peer of hers if I had spent my life and money on a PhD and related research and struggling to play the game of getting promoted at top colleges - I have heard stories about how hard it is - and she bailed on being a lawyer after a few years and fell in to this role. And it was a good one at that (or sounded like it.) -- Just realized our neighbor is in a leadership role at our local university and he has Ivy League degrees from undergrad, a JD and a PhD - so that is just what it takes.
3) She talks about Obama....his book about being a half African American/White person in "Dreams of my Father" (that he wrote after being the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review) is much more compelling. Dealing with the crazy race tensions of Hawaii, his identity in the suburbs of LA and later seeking out NYC/Columbia -and then Chicago which he initially had no ties to but went to work as a grass roots organizer among the disenfranchised (and often non white community.). We know how that story ended and it sounds like Obama will come back to work on helping with those same race issues with his new foundation. (It sounds like.)
Complaining about people not getting it in Palo Alto (they call it Shallow Alto) - is like moving to Greenwich, Connecticut and saying the same thing. She knew that going in - going back after having lived there before. It is of course disappointing - but not shocking.
Comparing the treatment plight of a random African American man in Texas who was not treated for Ebola properly (because as noted they had no idea that he had the disease otherwise of course would have jumped) vs. a white doctor sent back from Africa after TREATING patients with Ebola who contracted the disease - is just an unrealistic comparison. Most likely a case of doctors "not knowing" but not - not caring.
And the Richard Sherman comments re race and the SuperBowl 2014 Game - I think she really missed the mark here.
Of course the racial situation in the US is terrible and the Trump regime is making it more aggravated and apparent - I recommend Obama's "Dreams of My Father" - as a much more interesting read than this book (and someone with the same ethnic parentage - but of course a male.)
I know about Julie Lythcott-Haims because she was a keynote speaker for the school I work at. I respect her enormously as an educator and for her work on "How to Raise an Adult." This was a very different book, and to me, a different Julie. Maybe I mean, a different part of Julie. It was sad and heartwrenching to read. I am not black so her experience is not my own, but as a minority woman, reading about her experience tugged at a part of me I'm not sure I was aware of in myself.
15. Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haims read by the author published: 2017 format: 6:39 overdrive audiobook (~184 Pages, 288 pages on hardcover) acquired: Library listened: Mar 19-26 rating: 3½
I like this more now then when I first finished. First of all Lythcott-Haims writes well and is excellent reader. This was easy to listen to because of the nice presentation. And second because I'm thinking about it more and when I think about it a lot things come up.
Lythcott-Haims is a mixed-race American who spent those critical school age years in the almost all-white area of Verona, WI (near Madison). Her mother is English and her father, a one-time assistant surgeon general of the US, was African-American. This led her a lot of identity issues. Slowly, it seems, she would identify more and more with black issues even if she never really felt she got that American black culture.
My first impression upon finishing was that the book is a bit thin, a girl who grew up with some identity issues, but with great parents, and strong home, and who, through intelligence and hard work, moved on to Stanford and, later, Harvard Law and later a successful career, with maybe a little regret to the role affirmative action may have played. OK. That's not a really a book. She also looks deeply into racism and has many moving things to say. Ok, better. But the thing is she does make it interesting, her life is unique, she presents well and actually that is a lot - all that stuff. There is an American history there.
OMG! GO READ THIS RIGHT NOW! I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU ARE DOING!
This is the memoir of a self-described "tragic mulatto" who goes from being embarrassed by her Black father to figuring out her own identity and embracing her truth as a woman of color and class privilege.
When she figured herself out, I wanted to scream and cheer for Julie.
OMG! GO READ THIS RIGHT NOW! I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU ARE DOING!
The author's story is packed full of important information and I highly recommend it for White Folk who are trying to educate and acquaint themselves with the struggles of biracial Americans. My only problem is the low description, almost textbook approach to the writing. The content was interesting, but for a memoir there was very little emotion to it until the last bit when she is reflecting.
Lythcott-Haims’ memoir was educational, encouraging in its openness, and personally interesting.
1) Educational: I learned a fair bit about the biracial or multiracial experience in America during the 70s, 80s, and 90s, particularly that the identity was a new concept.
2) Openness: I admire the way she speaks really honestly about her complicated relationship with blackness
3) Personally interesting
a) Hearing about Stanford experiences through her eyes — Three Books, also being a TA for Jim Steyer, Richard Sherman
b) Eye opening to hear her struggles during the time I was there. She’s someone who has a reputation for being competent and confident, an authority figure who’s “made it” — so it’s comforting in a way to see that she too struggled
This was a very enlightening read about a young, upper-middle class, girl born to a British mom and Afro-American dad. Being born biracial or multicultural became a harsh reality as Julie grew up without many friends. She later dated and then married Dan, a Jewish man. They are now raising their two teens. The boy named Sawyer is the first born & the girl named Avery is the second born child for this couple. I learned a lot through the eyes of the author and plan to read more of her work.
What an incredible memoir. Julie Lythcott-Haims is the daughter of an African American father from the American South and a British mother from Yorkshire, England. This memoir, broken up into sections and little vignettes, is about her journey and struggle with identity.
As a white woman, I can’t even fathom what it is like to go through some of the things that Julie went through. I listened to 90% of the audiobook before reading the last 10%, and I think listening to it (read by Julie herself) definitely is a different experience than reading it. It was stunningly, thoughtfully crafted.
It seems like lately I have been giving many 5-star reviews, but I cannot give a lower rating just because it looks like I’m an “easy grader!” I heard Ms. Lythcott-Haims interviewed on NPR about a more recent book she has authored; I enjoyed what she had to say and how she said it. When I looked into her books I decided that this one was a good place to get to know her. I wasn’t disappointed—she really digs deeply into growing up as a bi-racial child/girl/woman. I found it helpful as a white person looking in on her life—she doesn’t pull any punches. The story is engaging and personal. I’m looking forward to the day when race is not our defining feature—whether I am present or not.
Julie Lythcott-Haims’ memoir Real American is about the author’s experience growing up biracial in America and how it shaped who she is. Lythcott-Haims, daughter of an African-American father and a white British mother, was born in Africa when her parents were working there, but moved as a young girl to the U.S. She lived in a few different places, some more racially diverse than others, and spent much of her life feeling conflicting about her mixed race. She didn’t have many black friends as a teenager, and in many ways she suppressed that side of herself in order to fit in. She went on to college and law school, eventually moved to California, and in her late 20s she took a job as a dean at Stanford.
It wasn’t until that job at Stanford, and her marriage to a white man, that Lythcott-Haims really started investigating her relationship with race, her roots and the society into which she brought two mixed-race children. Real American is a collection of short, essay-like chapters (some as short as a few paragraphs) in which Lythcott-Haims explores her childhood and the emergence of her black identity.
I really liked Real American. It’s an intensely personal book, written with unflinching honesty and inspired by strong feelings, and it opened a real window for me into what it is like to grow up black or mixed in this country. The author and I attended the same law school and lived for many years in the same place, but our experiences were very different. I honestly think everyone I know should read this book. I dogeared so many pages that moved me, way too many to try to include here. Toward the end of the book, Lythcott-Haims talks about Black Lives Matter and the series of police killings of black men and boys, and she relates her deep fear about her son’s safety as a dark-skinned boy. Really painful to read, especially as a mom of a young son myself.
I could go on and on about this book. I am so glad I read it. It’s not always an easy read, but it is a good one, and surprisingly hard to put down.
Read this one within 24 hours, aided in part by sitting in a hospital waiting room for over 4 hours today, but also because it is truly engrossing. The author is a biracial woman who identifies largely as Black and who marries a white husband and has two biracial children. The memoir chronicles her various struggles in working to understand who and what she is and who she chooses to be and who she is seen as by others, both Black and white. Early on I was struck by her insightful and effective phrasing, as in this comment on supporters of "The Real America" turning on the fewer/les distinction: "They looked around at us, the others knocking at the door of the hiring manager, the landlord, the admissions dean, the local restaurant. Looked frantically around and began to see fewer -- less- of themselves." She's equally good at the probing questions that she asks herself while simultaneously directing them to her readers: She wonders how, for example, she can have "the conversation" with her biracial son about how to act around police without undercutting his self-image and sense of self? She wonders why she is supposed to be the one to make white folks comfortable around her? She wonders why police see young black males as "thugs" rather than as children? She wonders why her bother, who is white, insists that she, her daughter, is Black? Why isn't she white also? She even wonders why, given all of her identity struggles, she chose to marry a white man? I admit at first to thinking that her struggles with identity, belonging , and "feeling good enough" were not unlike the struggles many individuals of all races -- and perhaps women in particular -- experience, but as I read further, she helped me to understand at least in part what it feels like to be a Biracial/Black woman in present day US struggling with white indifference and tone-deafness and everyday slights and even aggression in both her personal and professional life while getting up and facing each day and raising two biracial children. I may not walk in her shoes, but I think I understand at least a bit more how much they pinch. Much food for thought.
This book is very...goal oriented? Lythcott-Haims wants to get white people (especially complacent white liberals, like those she brushes shoulders with in Silicon Valley) on board with the Black Lives Matter movement, as she is all too aware that the movement needs white people in order to succeed (though she sometimes wishes it didn't). And she dedicated her memoir to making that happen.
And I think that she really succeeds. Her memoir is very well-crafted and well-structured. So many memoirs are episodic--a bunch of vignettes, some of them connected (sort of). But every story of Lythcott's childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood builds to a searing climax two-thirds of the way through the book, when she fully comes to terms with her identity and becomes an activist and a writer. So when she does go didactic for the rest of the book, it's more immediate and feels more meaningful, than it would have been otherwise. White liberals in the Bay Area (like me) often hear what Lythcott-Haims has to say, and we are guilty of tuning out her all-too-important message. But context changes everything. And Real American provides that context, and forces us to listen.
When I started this book I was hoping that I would read about how this woman who was mixed, like me, made her way in this world and maybe give me a clue on how I could do it better... what I read was a heartbreaking memoir about a woman that could have been me and still figuring things out. Where I didn’t go to Stanford or Harvard, our experiences were very similar. From the friends we chose, the men we chose, the age when we finally woke up or had our “Pearl Harbor” moment. It gave me a validation that I did really need, but not from a white person. My whole life, I have been searching for that... being comfortable in my skin, seeing what loved ones see in me. Not being this overly sensitive, not black enough, but also a black woman. It helped me have a understanding for my mother. Who tried her best to give me the best that life could offer, while simultaneously not exposing me the Black culture that I so desperately needed. I feel fortunate that others have come before me to pave this path for mixed-race Black kids, trying to find their identities in a world that wants to see them fail. It gives me hope that even though there is a long way to go, we can move forward.
Growing up biracial in America. How do you find your identity? Enough said. Beautifully written. Julie has a way of drawing you into her inner turmoil and you root for her and get angry with her at times. But you cheer when she finds peace and comfort in her identity. This book is that journey.
This book is an honest, unflinching account of the challenges the author faced growing up in America as a biracial child. Julie Lythcott-Haims' insights and perspectives were really thought-provoking, and I appreciated her willingness to reveal her vulnerabilities and her doubts about where she really fit in. I've always marveled at writers who are willing to bare their souls to the world, and, in doing so, Julie Lythcott-Haims gives readers a lot to think about. This book is definitely worth reading and would make for some great conversation at a book club.
Some quotes that resonated with me:
"Many years later I would learn that Blackness was less about skin color or hair or language and more, far more, about a lived, conscious committedness to issues that impact Black people, and I would accept my light-colored skin, the sound of my voice, the biracial kink of my hair....I would learn I had been wrong in perceiving that all Black people thought and acted the same way."
"Through writing I tried to stare straight into my heart, to examine it, to get closer, and even to hold my heart in my hands. When I did so what I found was flesh partially covered with a scab still trying to form over a long-festering wound. I took a deep breath, then I poked at the scab and picked at it, then pressed hard and watched what happened. The pus oozed out thick as toothpaste. And when it was done oozing, it had formed a word: N----- .
I wrote that sh-- down." --------------- This book is full of powerful stories, too lengthy to recount here. So much...too much to ponder. Best you just grab the book yourself!
This book gave me a lot to think about. As a white person raised in a country without a history of slavery, I had only the most simplistic notion of what it meant to be African American when I moved to the USA, and most of what I thought I knew I had learned on TV. The only POC I knew in Canada were middle class immigrants or children of immigrants, and they had little in common with one another beyond the non-white color of their skin. Because the prejudice I knew was tied to country of origin (Haitians and Kenyans wouldn't be lumped together and neither would Polish and Ukrainian people), I naively assumed that economic disadvantage, not skin color or historical oppression, was the root of problems faced by black people in America. The last couple of decades have been painfully enlightening.
Lythcott-Haims describes her life as a biracial American who is not at all economically disadvantaged but who faces the agonies of racism, uncertain identity, lack of a feeling of belonging and has to cope with the fears, insecurities and, most of all, anger that these engender. The title of this book is perfect; I kept thinking how awful it would be to be from America and yet not feel safe, welcomed, or have a sense of belonging here. Someone who immigrates from, say, India might have similar negative feelings, but that person made a choice to move to a foreign country. And that person's children have the opportunity to assimilate (or not) without the burden of centuries of mistreatment and antipathy.
Real American didn't break completely new ground in the era of Black Lives Matter, but it's a valuable perspective of race in America.
I won an ARC of this book from the publisher through Librarything. This is probably one of the best memoirs I've read this year. Lythcott-Haims writes in poetic style, with irregular chapter breaks, with some chapters being only a few lines long. She goes back and forth in time, describing her life as a biracial upper middle class girl and woman in the 60's and 70's. Born to a Nigerian father and British mother, Lythcott-Haims seeks to develop her identity, finding it difficult to feel a belonging to either race: white or black. She's not quite 'black enough' and she's not quite 'white enough'. She includes many anecdotes in which she is seen as a person of suspicion, ("hey, wait a minute, you don't have a ticket") mystery, ("where are you from?") and dubious intelligence (" So I heard you got into Stanford") Many of her stories are heartbreaking. She is often cast aside by whites because of her skin color. She is the butt of jokes, the object of stereotypes and unmerited loathing. She even talks about loathing herself. Honest, gritty and raw, this book is a must read for anyone. I think I learned more about prejudice in this book than I did in a class I took many years ago on the subject. I hope this becomes a best seller. And an assigned reading for classes on the subject. Lythcott-Haims is a fabulous writer and I look forward to reading more of her writings.
I loved this beautifully written book. The prose is sparse, but exquisitely crafted. One feels that every single word was carefully weighed and selected, and yet, it flows easily and naturally. The insight Julie provides into her own journey of self-discovery and acceptance, and the way she ties these into important developments in society in the past 50 years is masterful.
I have to admit, I was motivated to read this book because I know the author and was at Stanford University with her. Reading this book made me deeply embarrassed on so many levels: On the most basic level, I am embarrassed that Julie has so many more vivid memories of her time at Stanford than I do, and that she was thinking so deeply about her experiences at an age when so many of us were caught up in our own little social and academic bubbles. I was so oblivious to so many things that were happening on campus, and beyond campus at that time in my life. Apartheid protests, save the whale protests - they all happened without my involvement or even more than a passing moment of interest, when the person I am today would have been an active participant in both. On another level, I am embarrassed to have been so completely unaware of race issues on campus or what any of my non-white classmates might have been experiencing. I guess my white privilege allowed me to be blissfully unaware, but I now desperately wish I could go back in time and be more aware, be more of an ally.
A wonderful personal history of being biracial in America. As a biracial woman (white and Filipina) this read was evocative and revealing. This helped me grasp the reality of just how recent the idea of being biracial is, and it was nice to validate how confusing and frustrating it is, how it separates you from your own kin, having parents and children that don’t look quite like you and who you feel you don’t quite belong to. I think this an important read for anyone who questions if/how racism exists in America (unbelievable that the question persists, but I’ve heard it asked still in this year of 2021). I had the privilege of hearing Julie speak at a work seminar, and it’s even better to hear this book spoken in her own voice.
I *much* preferred the second half to the first half, where Julie discusses her father's "hijinx" (e.g. setting a stadium on fire, and stealing dozens of bicycles). In the latter half, I wholly enjoyed Julie's observations and perspectives, especially relating to Julie's experience at Stanford, and her challenges as a bi-racial woman seeking her place in the Black community. I left the book wanted to learn more about Julie's trajectory on her way to self-acceptance, the role played by her (extremely supportive and loving) Jewish husband, who loved Julie inside and out from day one.
In particular, Julie's commentary about raising her own two bi-racial children struck me as among the most self-aware and articulate writing I ever have come across in a memoir. Her honesty and courage truly impressed me in this regard.
Despite my mixed feelings about the beginning chapters, I highly recommend this book for reading the perspective of an individual who lives a mindful and intentional life.
As a white woman, I found this to be an important read. Black voices desperately need to be heard... still. Living in the dominantly white south, I am always hearing from the white people who claim they're not racist about how they "see no color" and how it should be "All Lives Matter and not Black Lives Matter". It's infuriating and exhausting and so hard to explain what it really means when they can't see past their own whiteness. And how can I, as a white woman, claim to know what Black people are going through. I don't. I can't. I can only recommend this book as a good starting point to start reading from Black people and listening to their voices. I can only read, listen, research and do what I can to be the best ally I can be and that's all I ask from those who want to argue that "All Lives Matter" and who "see no color". There's so much more to it. Open this book up and find out for yourself a good example of why "Black Lives Matter".
I've been waiting for this book and it was so worth the wait - finished it in a matter of hours and it left me wanting to know more. In so many ways, the author's experience growing up in white suburban America in the 80s paralleled my own. But that simply misses the point - growing up the way I did kept me sheltered and in ways, perpetuated the stereotypes and discomfort shared so honestly in this memoir. It's an eye-opener and an invitation to better understand others and honor the institutional and subtle role race, origin and identity play in both a historical context and daily life.
This was one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Ms. Lythcott-Haims is so honest, laying her soul bare at the feelings she had of not belonging, of difference, of reality, of racism, and beyond. Her scholarly voice merges with her poetic gift to create a poignant narrative of a real life. Go read this now.