Book Review: Not Quite Not White

I love reading books from a point of view that is not my own. Not Quite Not White by Sharmila Sen is about her experience emigrating from India when she was 12.

Basic Summary (Courtesy of Amazon):

At the age of 12, Sharmila Sen emigrated from India to the U.S. The year was 1982, and everywhere she turned, she was asked to self-report her race – on INS forms, at the doctor’s office, in middle school. Never identifying with a race in the India of her childhood, she rejects her new “not quite” designation – not quite white, not quite black, not quite Asian — and spends much of her life attempting to blend into American whiteness. But after her teen years trying to assimilate–watching shows like General Hospital and The Jeffersons, dancing to Duran Duran and Prince, and perfecting the art of Jell-O no-bake desserts–she is forced to reckon with the hard questions: What does it mean to be white, why does whiteness retain the magic cloak of invisibility while other colors are made hypervisible, and how much does whiteness figure into Americanness?

Part memoir, part manifesto, Not Quite Not White is a searing appraisal of race and a path forward for the next not quite not white generation –a witty and sharply honest story of discovering that not-whiteness can be the very thing that makes us American.


My thoughts:

I very much enjoyed reading about her experiences. I’ve never been a 12 year old leaving my country for a new life my parents think will be a positive move for our family.

In the end though, our opinions on how to address the issues of race in America are polar opposites. And that is to be expected. We have two different back grounds to draw our opinions from. I believe the way forward to is to stop naming race and color and religion as though they describe what matters about humans at all.

Perhaps that’s because I am perceived as “white”. I’ve “enjoyed'” a life being perceived as white.  But that label tells nothing about who I really am.

Am I kind person who donates money to charity or a money hoarder who cares only for her own immediate family?

Do I work at a job I love or am I miserable but chasing the almighty dollar?

Am I a lady who lunches or do I clean my own home because I think it’s weird to have another human pick up after me?

Did I vote for Trump or Hillary?

Am I brilliant or average?

Can I make you laugh or do I tell knock knock jokes?

Do I go to church?

Do I pray?

The word white doesn’t answer any of these things for you. Neither would the label black, brown, purple, or pink with polka dots. Why bother to use a label that gives no meaningful information at all?


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