When I Was White
The stunning and provocative coming-of-age memoir about Sarah Valentine's childhood as a white girl in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and her discovery that her father was a black man. 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.

When I Was White Details

TitleWhen I Was White
Author
ReleaseAug 6th, 2019
PublisherSt. Martin's Press
ISBN-139781250146755
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Race, Biography

When I Was White Review

  • Donna Davis
    January 1, 1970
    Sarah Valentine was raised to believe that she was white, and that her dark complexion is the product of her Greek ancestors. But whereas she does have Greek ancestry in her DNA, Sarah is also of African descent. This strange but compelling, searingly honest memoir came to me courtesy of Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press; it will be available to the public tomorrow, August 6, 2019. Valentine is an excellent writer, and she spins us back in time to her childhood, spent in a private school, a Cath Sarah Valentine was raised to believe that she was white, and that her dark complexion is the product of her Greek ancestors. But whereas she does have Greek ancestry in her DNA, Sarah is also of African descent. This strange but compelling, searingly honest memoir came to me courtesy of Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press; it will be available to the public tomorrow, August 6, 2019. Valentine is an excellent writer, and she spins us back in time to her childhood, spent in a private school, a Catholic upper middle class family, celebrating European cultural events. She is the only African-American or mixed race student at her school, and every now and then, someone there will make a remark that infers she is Black. This puzzles her. Her own mother makes remarks bordering on White Supremacy, assumptions about the habits and character of Black people; of course, none of this should apply to Sarah, in her view, because she insists that Sarah is Greek and Irish, and Irish, and Irish. Reading of her experiences, I am initially surprised that such culturally clueless, entirely white parents would be permitted to adopt a Black child; but here’s the thing. She isn’t adopted. She is her mother’s biological child, and to talk about who her biological father is, is to recognize that her mother was not always faithful to her father. It’s a keg of dynamite, one that her parents carefully navigate around. Not only have they not spoken about this to Sarah; they have not spoken about it to each other. It is a fiction that holds their marriage together; toss a tablecloth over that keg of TNT there and for goodness sake, don’t bump it. I came away feeling sorry for her father. There’s a lot more going on between Sarah and her parents, particularly her mother, a talented but not entirely stable parent who assigns impossible standards to her daughter. Meanwhile, as Sarah grows up and leaves for college, the fiction of her heritage is uncovered, first as a mere suspicion, then later as fact. This isn’t an easy read or a fun one. It can’t be. Sarah’s pain bleeds through the pages as we see the toxic ingredients and outcomes in her story; her mother’s mental health and her own, as well as eating disorders and the implosion of her parents’ marriage. The particulars of her lifelong struggle make it impossible to draw a larger lesson in terms of civil rights issues; there are some salient points that will speak to women that grew up in the mid-20th century as Sarah’s mother did, and as I did. And here we find one small spark of optimism, the fact that when women are raped, whether at college or elsewhere, we stand a greater chance of being believed than we did in the past. Still, it’s a grim tale overall, and I don’t think there’s any other way Sarah could honestly have told it.
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  • Taryn Pierson
    January 1, 1970
    What a frustrating book. Right off the bat, you should know Valentine doesn't meet or even conclusively identify her biological father. I know life doesn't always wrap up neatly the way fiction does, but to write this memoir without any kind of closure on the question of her biological father's identity seems...questionable? Although now that I've said that, I'm realizing that if I'm this uncomfortable as a disinterested reader, what must it feel like to be Valentine and live with that ambiguity What a frustrating book. Right off the bat, you should know Valentine doesn't meet or even conclusively identify her biological father. I know life doesn't always wrap up neatly the way fiction does, but to write this memoir without any kind of closure on the question of her biological father's identity seems...questionable? Although now that I've said that, I'm realizing that if I'm this uncomfortable as a disinterested reader, what must it feel like to be Valentine and live with that ambiguity your whole life? So maybe, upon reflection, that's what she was going for. Still, many of the details that were included felt extraneous. Her rapturous description of her wedding, for example, was totally over the top--and as she admits a few chapters later, the marriage didn't last, so did we really need to know what color her bridesmaids' dresses were? And the pages and pages recounting philosophical discussions with friends in college--we get it, you were an insufferable pseudo-intellectual masking insecurity, don't make me sit in the Denny's booth with you and relive the whole thing.This memoir is at its best when the author is recounting and analyzing the many conversations she had with her mother over the years, trying to get at the truth of how she was conceived. Her mother is a deeply flawed but totally fascinating person--I was analyzing every word out of her mouth right along with Valentine, putting on my deerstalker cap and going all armchair detective. Valentine has clearly done a lot of emotional work to process her own feelings, and while she can't forgive or excuse her mother's actions, she also seems to understand her mother surprisingly well. Valentine also reflects meaningfully on her experience of "coming out as black," growing to understand her biracial identity, and the privilege inherent in white people's ignoring race or pretending it doesn't matter. So I suppose my recommendation is to read this book with the goal of learning about how racial identity is constructed and how it feels to be a biracial person, rather than reading it to "solve the mystery."
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  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    “When I Was White” is a memoir of a young woman growing up questioning herself, her identity, her family, and her personal experiences related to racialambiguity. I always commend authors for telling and sharing their own personal stories, though it may be emotional and hard for them to do, and I especially welcome and appreciate lessons and insight that their stories provide. I cannot relate personally to what the author has experienced, but she was able to fully demonstrate her uncertainty, he “When I Was White” is a memoir of a young woman growing up questioning herself, her identity, her family, and her personal experiences related to racialambiguity. I always commend authors for telling and sharing their own personal stories, though it may be emotional and hard for them to do, and I especially welcome and appreciate lessons and insight that their stories provide. I cannot relate personally to what the author has experienced, but she was able to fully demonstrate her uncertainty, her frustrations, her doubt, and her pain in a way that touched my heart and gave me a glimpse of what it must have been like for her.
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  • librarianka
    January 1, 1970
    I am sure this will be the talked about memoir of the 2019. When I Was White is an incredibly nuanced, perceptive and deeply thought out account of growing up being denied one's identity. At the age of 27 the author has had her lifelong suspicions confirmed: her biological father had been a black man. This fact has remained a well guarded secret in her family. Having grown up in a white family and passing for white all her life until then Valentine now embarks on the process of discovering who s I am sure this will be the talked about memoir of the 2019. When I Was White is an incredibly nuanced, perceptive and deeply thought out account of growing up being denied one's identity. At the age of 27 the author has had her lifelong suspicions confirmed: her biological father had been a black man. This fact has remained a well guarded secret in her family. Having grown up in a white family and passing for white all her life until then Valentine now embarks on the process of discovering who she is and where she belongs. As a brilliant scholar of literature and a translator, she knows how to write well. This book is a pleasure to read. The nuance, the depth of her analysis is astounding. I was deeply moved and at the same time I felt very privileged to be part of her personal journey in which she uncovers countless details, experiences, bias, assumptions that our society cultivates. She has now successfully reformatted herself and became a new self, even changing her name, but it was and continues to be a painful, anxious process and we as participants to the author's trials can recognize with many of her experiences. The book is well planned, at times it reads like a hard to put down suspense novel, at times more like a scholarly analysis but it is never dry and always interesting and rewarding. This is my number one non fiction book of 2019 so far. Highly recommended to persons of all colours.Thank you NetGalley for the reader's copy of Sarah Valentine's book.The painting featured in Sarah Valentine's memoir by Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov The Rape of Europa. 1910 can be examined at Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow or on its website.https://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/co...
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  • Jakki
    January 1, 1970
    The writing and editing didn’t really bother me. I’m not that smart. It’s just a mediocre book at best. What everyone seems to be dancing around in their reviews is how the hell didn’t you know you were black!?!? When I realized she was 27!!! before she accepted, knew, realized that she was black, total bullshit. I’m thinking that she was a kid or a teenager when this realization took place. EVERYONE but you and your family questioned your ethnicity? I then had to google images of the author for The writing and editing didn’t really bother me. I’m not that smart. It’s just a mediocre book at best. What everyone seems to be dancing around in their reviews is how the hell didn’t you know you were black!?!? When I realized she was 27!!! before she accepted, knew, realized that she was black, total bullshit. I’m thinking that she was a kid or a teenager when this realization took place. EVERYONE but you and your family questioned your ethnicity? I then had to google images of the author for confirmation of how she looked. Stevie Wonder could see she’s black. AND THEN when she decided/confirmed that she was black she just automatically found these stereotypical black super powers? She became more assertive, more outspoken, that angry black woman? Sorry about my rant but I know and am related to black individuals who really could pass and wouldn’t dream of it. The author seems to be a beautiful lady who has had the great privilege of a solid middle class life with two parents who love her. I simply couldn’t get past her ignorance and couldn’t enjoy the book. You still might be able to.
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  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    DNF because of way too much backstory in the beginning that needed considerable editing. Just couldn't get into this.
  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    I am giving this book 3 stars. If it weren't a memoir, it would get 2, but I always like to take into consideration why the book was written and the fact that it just plain takes a whole lot of guts to lay your life out there. For that, you get a star. And wow! Ms. Valentine sure has a life to lay out there. Raised as a 100% white woman, at age 27 (yes, 27) she finds out that she is in fact biracial and that her biological father is black, actual origins unknown, and supposedly a rapist. Which l I am giving this book 3 stars. If it weren't a memoir, it would get 2, but I always like to take into consideration why the book was written and the fact that it just plain takes a whole lot of guts to lay your life out there. For that, you get a star. And wow! Ms. Valentine sure has a life to lay out there. Raised as a 100% white woman, at age 27 (yes, 27) she finds out that she is in fact biracial and that her biological father is black, actual origins unknown, and supposedly a rapist. Which leads to my first question: why does she obsess so much about wanting to meet and get to know him? Maybe his family or about his background, but him as a person? No thank you. I spent a good portion of the book trying to figure out why Ms. Valentine didn't confront her parents earlier than age 27, especially when she spent way too much time during the course of the book pointing out events that indicated that there was something amiss. In fact, a lot of time in this book is spent on events that could have easily been edited out and made for a better book. However, again this is where the idea of it being a memoir comes in to play. If this book is for Ms. Valentine's benefit, then it should include whatever she wants. It could include a list of the jelly used on her daily sandwich for lunch. But, when offered to the public to read, the focus changes a bit. (Maybe this is why I expect never to write a memoir?) Through most of the book I sympathized with Ms. Valentine. Yet, in my very subjective opinion, I thought her outrage should have been focused on having been lied to and not about her actual parentage. Instead, she starts to get upset about the institutionalized racism around her. I was a bit upset that she hadn't been concerned about it before. But I guess now it is her problem? Second, I felt like her viewing of the world through her new lens was a bit over the top. No, I did not text a black friend last night and ask her if, when she walks in a room she notices and counts every single other black person. This seems unnatural. Is Ms. Valentine doing this because she is becoming more aware? This connection is not made. Instead it seemed another part of being outraged at her parentage. Misplaced anger. This anger caused other issues to arise that made me scratch my head. Ms. Valentine assumed that someone wondered why she studied Soviet literature if she wasn't born there because she was black. I don't understand this. Maybe they wondered why she studied Soviet literature period. I studied Russian in college and was frequently asked why. I am not Russian. I am not black. I was someone interested in learning a foreign language and tired of French. To assume the question was racially motivated was going a bit too far. In the context of this been recognized as Ms. Valentine becoming overwhelmed with her racial revelation, it would have made sense. But that connection is never made. Several connections are never made. So I will chalk this memoir up as a way for Ms. Valentine to write down her feelings and impressions but not as a document for outsiders to read for a greater understanding of the issues. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.
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  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    Started this memoir with high hopes. Sorry. What should be an unforgettable story fell flat, and, for me, caring never kicked in. Not enough to continue, at any rate.Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.
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  • Anneke
    January 1, 1970
    Book Review: When I Was WhiteAuthor: Sarah ValentinePublisher: St. Martin’s PressPublication Date: August 6, 2019Review Date: April 18, 2019I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the blurb:“The stunning and provocative coming-of-age memoir about Sarah Valentine's childhood as a white girl in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and her discovery that her father was a black man.At the age of 27, Sarah Valentine discovered that she was not, in fact, the whi Book Review: When I Was WhiteAuthor: Sarah ValentinePublisher: St. Martin’s PressPublication Date: August 6, 2019Review Date: April 18, 2019I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. From the blurb:“The stunning and provocative coming-of-age memoir about Sarah Valentine's childhood as a white girl in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and her discovery that her father was a black man.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.”When I saw this book on NetGalley I was very excited about reading it. It unfortunately turned out to be a very disappointing read. First of all, I believe it still needs a great deal of editing. There are numerous typos, though I’m sure they will be cleaned up prior to publication. The main problem I have with the book is that is overly verbose. Much back story is included that I really don’t think is necessary. If I was the editor, I’d cut out most of the first 30% of the story, and start there. Family stories were repeated, Sarah’s feelings and reactions were repeated ad nauseam. The other difficulty I had reading this book is my personal problem. Sarah’s family, particularly her mother, is one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve ever read about. Her mother is a selfish, racist, self-centered woman who is completely out of touch with the world. I feel great pity for Sarah that she grew up with such a mean, hateful, oblivious and cruel mother. And her father was not so overtly hateful, but was a coward in the way he let his wife rule the family. What Sarah faced was extremely difficult. But there’s something about how she’s written her memoir that does not draw me in to be on her side, to root for her. It’s not easy to leave feedback like this when what she is writing about is filled with so much emotion, and she has laid herself bare. Perhaps a really good editor can help pull the story into something more readable and creates more compassion for the author. For these reasons, I do not recommend this book. 3 Stars. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for an early look at this book. This review will be posted on NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon.#netgalley #stmartinspress #wheniwaswhite #memoir
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book. The author has a fascinating story to tell with important insights into race and identity in America. But this book is in need of a lot of editing. At times the narrative is choppy without enough details to be able to follow the story, but in other places it is overly verbose. I did read an ARC, but they are usually in better shape this close to publication. I'll hold out hope that a good editor goes through it before it is published because it i I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book. The author has a fascinating story to tell with important insights into race and identity in America. But this book is in need of a lot of editing. At times the narrative is choppy without enough details to be able to follow the story, but in other places it is overly verbose. I did read an ARC, but they are usually in better shape this close to publication. I'll hold out hope that a good editor goes through it before it is published because it is a 5 star story that everyone could benefit from reading.I received an ARC from NetGalley. The book will be released on August 6, 2019.
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  • Theresa
    January 1, 1970
    I was at the library and happened upon this book and of course, the title caught my attention. Ok, so I didn't really care for this book numerous reasons. There was too much back story. It took away from the overall story and because of that, in some areas I sort of checked out and just scanned and flip through it. I thought the author was naive to a fault and I felt that the "lie/secret" made for a weird and dysfunctional family on every level. For everyone to act as if the author was white was I was at the library and happened upon this book and of course, the title caught my attention. Ok, so I didn't really care for this book numerous reasons. There was too much back story. It took away from the overall story and because of that, in some areas I sort of checked out and just scanned and flip through it. I thought the author was naive to a fault and I felt that the "lie/secret" made for a weird and dysfunctional family on every level. For everyone to act as if the author was white was ludicrous. I almost forgot that I was reading a memoir and not fiction. It was so crazy that it would have been a failure even as fiction. All of this built on the lie of one single person, the mother, and everyone and I mean everyone in her family, including extended family members, guarded it and behaved as if this "obvious" black girl was white. Pretty much all her life, people made comments; teachers, friends, etc...one teacher mentioned a scholarship for African Americans and she wouldjust act as if nothing was said and simply ignored it. The fact that she was almost 30 when she finally chose to address it boggles my mind. I think on some level it reflects the level of control the mother had over her family. The mother was truly a piece of work. She created the lie, she controlled her family, she wore the pants in the house and she was nasty when challenged in any way and generally, they would back off. Her family behaved as if they were afraid of her. She was manipulative, a racist and held unfounded grudges. What she did with the film she made for her father in law's funeral in order to hurt his second wife was vicious and nasty. She had no regard for the fact that her husband had lost his dad, his last living parent. When the grandfather's second wife was passing out Kleenex at the funeral, she went to give a packet to the author's mother and she rolled her eyes and turn away from her. This woman had been married to the grandfather for 15 years. The daughter asked her why she would do such a cruel thing and she made some offhanded comment about "that's the way it should be." When the kids flew in for the funeral, she wouldn't go out with her husband and kids for a bite to eat because she felt slighted because he didn't respond to something she said in the car, so she got an attitude and refuse to go...he had just lost his dad. It was all about her. Her involvement in the community through volunteering came off to me as insincere and more about the image she wanted to project. For some people, image means everything and whatever they need to tell themselves to justify their actions, they will, but the tragedy of that is that it is usually at the expense of others, especially those closest to them. I believe she lied about being raped in an attempt to justify the lie. She had to portray herself as a victim and the African American father as the ultimate bad guy. Rape was the perfect scapegoat. She would get the sympathy and just maybe the daughter would change her mind about pursuing this matter. It worked to an extent because the daughter did feel some guilt in continuing this matter with her. When her daughter brought the subject up again at a later date, she told a different story. Towards the end, the daughter conceded that everytime she tried to discuss it with her, the story changed. The truth is one story and it doesn't changes. She lied, it was mutual but she was one of those people that could create a lie and make herself believe it. Her mother treated her like she had done something wrong any time she questioned her. She tried to make her feel bad and guilty; yeah, she was a master manipulator. She sneak into her daughter's room while she was out and remove anything black related without saying anything to her. She didn't like the daughter to watch any black shows. The daughter was watching "In Living Color," and one of the characters was a black guy portraying a white person and spoke in a nasally tone and the mother said "see, they know how to speak correctly." She made a nasty racist comment about "what do you want us to do now...eat watermelon and fried chicken and talk like this" at which point she attempted to make gestures like a rapper, emulating how she thought black people spoke. She was nasty.I had some sympathy for the author because I can't imagine living a lie that was supported by every family member, including grandparents on both sides, aunts, uncles, cousins, I can't. How does one person get that many people to support a lie, not just any lie, but a very obvious and very serious lie? The author made a few racist comments herself. One was so stupid, it was ridiculous. She was at a friend's and their was a black girl there and she had a nose bleed and the author stood and watched her intensely because she thought surely her blood must be a different color and when the girl bled red, she just walked away. So, no, I didn't have a lot of sympathy for her because of some of the dumb stuff she said. She mentioned towards the end how blacks and mixed people have ways as vast as the number of people of that race. Really? So every race but blacks have a culture? Blacks do have a culture and it is the same as other races, it's in our music, our food, how we dance, our rhythm, how we relate to each other, our inner language that we speak and in a thousand other little ways that makes each race unique. Regardless of the mixture, she is a white girl through and through and that is all she can and will ever be. One is raised in a culture, you can't be taught a culture in a way that makes you a part of that culture. You can't study it like a subject matter in school and become that culture.
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  • Jennifer M.
    January 1, 1970
    { partner } Thanks so much to NetGalley, the author, and St. Martin's Press for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are entirely my own. I knew that I was interested in this book early on before publication, because I love getting to learn about different perspectives and read about experiences that I wouldn't necessarily have in my lifetime. This memoir definitely fit the bill in that respect. This was a really interesting read, although I will say that it isn't exac { partner } Thanks so much to NetGalley, the author, and St. Martin's Press for an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are entirely my own. I knew that I was interested in this book early on before publication, because I love getting to learn about different perspectives and read about experiences that I wouldn't necessarily have in my lifetime. This memoir definitely fit the bill in that respect. This was a really interesting read, although I will say that it isn't exactly a fun or easy read. Like, I wouldn't take it to the beach or anything, but I am glad that I got the chance to read it. That being said, I don't think that this will end up being my favorite read of the summer. There was a ton of really amazing detail throughout the entire book, about everything - but at times there was a bit more detail than I really needed about certain aspects of the author's story and it made parts of the book seem a bit long. Things like knowing exactly what stop she used on the subway, and all of the stops that lead up to it, and the entire layout of the shops and city. While I know that where you grow up and where you go to college tend to have a great impact on a person's story so I definitely don't mind a bit of that type of background and detail, but it seemed to me that it took up a good chunk of the book and made it a bit of a slow read for me. It's completely personal preference, but it just made the book drag a bit for me in some parts. This story, and the author, are definitely at their best when they're focused on the human interactions - specifically between the author and her mother, as well as the rest of her family. One of the best things about non-fiction, when written in a truthful and realistic tone, is that you get to see the flaws that everybody has. This author and her family are no exception, but her mom is especially fascinating, and the many conversations that take place between she and the author surrounding her true parentage (both before it is really revealed to her as well as after) are incredibly interesting. I loved getting to see behind the curtain a little bit and get a taste of what those difficult conversations would have looked like. I will say that if you are a reader who prefers happy endings that are tied up in a bow, this may not do it for you. The author is a strong, independent woman who finds herself through the course of finding who she is, and through becoming in touch with the heritage that she wasn't sure she shared. And in that fact alone, it is a happy ending. But know that there are still many questions that are left unanswered. For instance, despite all of her research and looking, by the end of the story the author has not met her biological father. But maybe along the way her strength showed her that maybe she didn't need to after all. This story gave me a very different look into white privilege, biracial identity, and other topics that I wouldn't have had this insight into on my own. And I would recommend it to anyone else who would like to take a closer look at one of the many stories of identity and change and finding who we are, specifically a story that may be very different than ours. Just know that it may be a bit of a long read, so prepare yourself to wade through some lengthy bits of description. And I'm not kidding, probably not a beach read. Preferably read it while sitting by a fireplace with a blanket and a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Trust me, you'll want to feel cozy!
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  • Carin
    January 1, 1970
    When Sarah was 27, she learned her father wasn't her father, and that she is biracial.With that premise, who can resist picking up this memoir? Not me! Sarah and her family were always asked if she was black, if she was mixed, if she was adopted, if she was Hispanic. She didn't look like her little brothers. Her skin was darker and her hair was frizzy and unruly. Plus her mom was always weird about things, like confiscating her Bell Biv Devoe tape. There was certainly no blatant racism in her ho When Sarah was 27, she learned her father wasn't her father, and that she is biracial.With that premise, who can resist picking up this memoir? Not me! Sarah and her family were always asked if she was black, if she was mixed, if she was adopted, if she was Hispanic. She didn't look like her little brothers. Her skin was darker and her hair was frizzy and unruly. Plus her mom was always weird about things, like confiscating her Bell Biv Devoe tape. There was certainly no blatant racism in her house, but whenever Sarah showed any interest in anything overly black, including other children, it was quickly shut down. (There were exceptions for things like Michael Jackson albums, which were mainstream enough to pass muster.)When Sarah did find out, this massive family secret, it seemed like everyone already knew. But it also was like she already knew. She'd had suspicions for a long time. She eventually just asked her mom. Even though her mother and father had gotten married before she was born, she knew her mom was pregnant when they did. But it's hard to question your paternity when you have photos of your dad in the delivery room. Also, her father, in the summertime, was often darker in skin tone than Sarah was! There were always excuses or explanations. But in the end, something was always... off. And so Sarah asked and she found out.Well, she kind of found out. Her mother was reluctant to give her details. And what she said, changed. She wouldn't tell her the name of her father, and mostly claimed not to even know who it was. Sarah spends years asking more questions, investigating on her own, and asking around people who knew her parents back then who might know more.In the meantime she's having to grapple with having been raised white in suburban Pittsburgh, when in fact she's half African-American. She knows next to nothing about her race, and the understanding of who she is is suddenly ripped out from under her. She has no one she can talk to about it, and has to start to try to figure out herself on her own.As she is a college professor, the book is well written. Very occasionally, she does lapse into a tad too much detail, but it's easy enough to skim those short sections. Overall, it really makes you think about what you would do if you suddenly found out you weren't who you thought you were, and about family secrets--how they can both be so pervasive and so toxic.
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  • Cindy
    January 1, 1970
    When I Was White, by Sarah Valentine, is a provocative memoir of a woman whose life-long suspicions are confirmed when she finds out, at age 27, that she is biracial. The story of how she deals with the emotional upheaval of learning that some of her most basic “truths” were not real, and how she integrates her African-American identity into her being should have been compelling and heart-rendering. It was not. It lacks nuance and context in terms of perspective, compassion, and history. Sarah’s When I Was White, by Sarah Valentine, is a provocative memoir of a woman whose life-long suspicions are confirmed when she finds out, at age 27, that she is biracial. The story of how she deals with the emotional upheaval of learning that some of her most basic “truths” were not real, and how she integrates her African-American identity into her being should have been compelling and heart-rendering. It was not. It lacks nuance and context in terms of perspective, compassion, and history. Sarah’s story is neither black nor white, it is blood-red with justifiable anger for having been lied to and denied her heritage. However, even years after the revelation, she shows no compassion for her mother who was subject to trauma of some sort or the father who raised and loved her. She acknowledges but is dismissive of the fact that she was raised in a loving family, where she has had every economic advantage, and has benefited from white privilege. When I first started reading, I thought the author must have been born in the 1940’s, not 1977. There is no mention of the impact of the Civil Rights movement, the laws that followed or Title IX, which prohibited discrimination based on sex. There was a missed opportunity to talk about why these legal remedies might have been less than satisfactory, and how systemic racism is. We see evidence of it and individual hate every day in the news. Instead, the reader is bombarded with instances of slights Sarah assumes stem from racist perceptions of who she is. She may be right, but she never seems to ask or confront in an era where African American men and women are judges, deans, presidents of universities and in 2007, running for president. Finally, we never learn the true story of Sarah’s conception. Sarah may never have learned the truth, or it might not have been her story to tell. As with many reconstructions of fact, it is often a cobbling of what some wish had happened, vague memories, and denial of reality. But I was troubled by her description of her biological father as “real,” and felt that the father that raised her deserved better.The author deserves much credit for sharing her story, and her pain. I would not have been so courageous. Thanks so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for giving me an opportunity to read the electronic ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Tonja
    January 1, 1970
    In Sarah Valentine’s Memoir she grows up knowing that’s she doesn’t really look like the white family and friends she is surrounded by. Her race is something that is eluded to, even joked about but never really discussed. When she is in her twenties her mother confirms her fears that her dad is not her biological father and she is indeed bi-racial. Her relationship with her mom is strained as she is not quite sure she believes her story of how she was conceived. She struggles with depression and In Sarah Valentine’s Memoir she grows up knowing that’s she doesn’t really look like the white family and friends she is surrounded by. Her race is something that is eluded to, even joked about but never really discussed. When she is in her twenties her mother confirms her fears that her dad is not her biological father and she is indeed bi-racial. Her relationship with her mom is strained as she is not quite sure she believes her story of how she was conceived. She struggles with depression and other disorders as she struggles to figure out where she belongs and what it means to now live as a black person. Though she feels loved by her dad, She can’t stop herself from continually searching for her biological father. Many times family secrets are kept to “protect” and shield loved ones from hurt. As I have personally experienced, in the end, perpetuating a lie or non-truth is much more damaging than the truth. This was a 3.5 star read for me. Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin Press for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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  • Jennifer Rico
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a memoir about a woman, Sarah Valentine, who thought she was white when she was growing up, but later discovered that her father was a black man, making her biracial.I have so many thoughts about this book that I'm not sure I will be able to get them all down coherently. First of all, it was a great book. I love books that make me think about people of different races. Sometimes it is hard for me to put myself in their thoughts. This one is even better because it is a true story abo This book is a memoir about a woman, Sarah Valentine, who thought she was white when she was growing up, but later discovered that her father was a black man, making her biracial.I have so many thoughts about this book that I'm not sure I will be able to get them all down coherently. First of all, it was a great book. I love books that make me think about people of different races. Sometimes it is hard for me to put myself in their thoughts. This one is even better because it is a true story about a real person.At first, I was a little incredulous that a person didn't know their race. Then I began to understand that deep down, she did know, but she went by what she was told. I guess other people didn't get involved either because it wasn't their place.The ending of the book did fall a little flat for me. Valentine just sort of rushed through the ending, which was a surprise after how much detail was put into the beginning of her story. I would love to know more about what happens next for her and her life.
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  • Tara
    January 1, 1970
    I did not enjoy this book. A lot of the material the author included did nothing to further the story (an entire chapter on angsty, pseudo-philosophical rankings with a friend in a diner?), and there were multiple disjointed transitions. Additionally, the fact that the author continued to harangue her mother long after it became clear that she wasn’t going to get what she wanted from her got stale very quickly. You cannot berate someone into understanding your perspective, and while I feel for t I did not enjoy this book. A lot of the material the author included did nothing to further the story (an entire chapter on angsty, pseudo-philosophical rankings with a friend in a diner?), and there were multiple disjointed transitions. Additionally, the fact that the author continued to harangue her mother long after it became clear that she wasn’t going to get what she wanted from her got stale very quickly. You cannot berate someone into understanding your perspective, and while I feel for the author’s situation, her complete lack of empathy, sympathy, or understanding of the realities of her mother’s situation just became whiny. The author paints her mother as unreasonable, difficult, and mentally ill and then, surprise!, it turns out that the author was diagnosed with a heritable mental illness that her mother likely has, as well. Sounds like two difficult people in difficult circumstances, but the author seems incapable of grasping that perspective.
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  • RuthAnn
    January 1, 1970
    Thank you to St. Martin's Press for my free review copy! This book releases today, August 6, 2019. This memoir is poignant and powerful. The author's revelation that her background is not what she believed is understandably traumatic, and going alongside for the journey is, at times, difficult to read. The most interesting aspects for me were when she interrogated her perspective toward whiteness and blackness, from both sides of the line. The concepts of code switching and passing loom large he Thank you to St. Martin's Press for my free review copy! This book releases today, August 6, 2019. This memoir is poignant and powerful. The author's revelation that her background is not what she believed is understandably traumatic, and going alongside for the journey is, at times, difficult to read. The most interesting aspects for me were when she interrogated her perspective toward whiteness and blackness, from both sides of the line. The concepts of code switching and passing loom large here, as well as the assumptions that people in her profession made about her. I would recommend this book for a thought-provoking, empathy-building read that raises a lot of interesting questions that are valuable to consider and discuss.
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  • Janilyn Kocher
    January 1, 1970
    Valentine explores her childhood and questions that went unanswered for years. As the oldest daughter she was reared to culturally identify as white, but realized she also was African-American. Her biological father is black and when her mother finally admitted that, the author continued to be frustrated as her mother changed the story of her conception or claimed she didn't remember. Valentine explores her cultural roots and struggles with her own Identity. She also plumbs other resources to di Valentine explores her childhood and questions that went unanswered for years. As the oldest daughter she was reared to culturally identify as white, but realized she also was African-American. Her biological father is black and when her mother finally admitted that, the author continued to be frustrated as her mother changed the story of her conception or claimed she didn't remember. Valentine explores her cultural roots and struggles with her own Identity. She also plumbs other resources to discover who her biological father is. This was an interesting read. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance read.
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  • Ciel
    January 1, 1970
    A quick read, especially if you skim to page 149, which I recommend, when she starts the inquiry with her mother. And then skim some more. This is not a new story, so looking for personal gems is the point. I would have wished for a more academic book, as she adds great stated facts about which colleges admitted people of color, when and way. Unfortunately, she has no bibliography or cited readings for anyone interested in looking into this further, or in reposting. What I find absurd, is how th A quick read, especially if you skim to page 149, which I recommend, when she starts the inquiry with her mother. And then skim some more. This is not a new story, so looking for personal gems is the point. I would have wished for a more academic book, as she adds great stated facts about which colleges admitted people of color, when and way. Unfortunately, she has no bibliography or cited readings for anyone interested in looking into this further, or in reposting. What I find absurd, is how the question of her race took so long to emerge.
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  • Felicia Holman
    January 1, 1970
    I LOVE this book because: *It represents an extremely relevant/ vivid personal and social catharsis. *The sequencing (linear, w/flashbacks), and the pacing (savvy editing; chapters felt like webisodes), and the tone (part journal entry, part case study; candid & poetic; illuminating & direct). *It's author (Sarah Valentine) is a brilliant and vulnerable Black woman who I'm blessed to know even more deeply, now. In closing, BUY THIS BOOK!
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  • Shan
    January 1, 1970
    A 3 star middle of the road rating because while Sarah has an interesting story to tell this book suffers from poor editing. Many parts could have been omitted as they don't relate to the premise of the book and many parts should have been pushed for more introspection as they do relate to the premise of the book. This book is a pretty simple telling of a story rather than a look at race in America through Sarah's unique lens.
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  • Valerie
    January 1, 1970
    Reviewed for ALA's "Booklist" Magazine -- appears in the August 2019 issue. If you have a subscription, you can read my review at BooklistOnline.com at:https://www.booklistonline.com/When-I...
  • Sharon G
    January 1, 1970
    A very selfish young woman without much insight.
  • Susannah Champlin
    January 1, 1970
    Compelling and powerful
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