New York Times bestselling author Julie Lythcott-Haims visited campus on January 24 for a conversation with a group of Concord Academy students in the Upper Student-Faculty Center. The event was hosted by the Multi-Ethnic Student Organization (MESO) affinity group.
On book tour for her memoir Real American, the author and poet introduced her subject matter with candor and an eagerness to engage with students. Her book concerns her mixed racial identity and, as she put it, her journey to love herself “as a black, biracial woman in America, where black lives haven’t mattered.”
Lythcott-Haims said that she had approached writing a memoir, especially on this subject, with some trepidation. She asked, who was she to write about race? Her father was a physician. Born in the first year that interracial marriages were legal in the United States, she received a great education, going on to law school. But growing up in nearly all-white public schools damaged her psychologically. Taking up low self-esteem as a product of a racist America and, in turn, the healing power of community, hers is a story of moving from self-loathing to self-love.
After reading selections from her memoir, including a painful account of how a birthday sign for her had been vandalized with the n-word, Lythcott-Haims invited questions. One student asked what she would do now, with her current level of consciousness, if she had a similar encounter. “I’d go straight into the principal’s office,” she said, “and tell them, ‘You have a problem in your school. What are you going to do about it?’”
The discussion turned to W. E. B. DuBois’ notion that people of color have a “double consciousness” of how the world sees them and how they see themselves. When she was younger, she said, her difficulty was that how the world saw her had determined how she saw herself.
Lythcott-Haims said she wrote her memoir for herself, and for other biracial people and people of color who might see their experiences in hers. She faulted America as a society for a lack of compassion, particularly for those who are “otherized.” Her hope was that her book would increase compassion in those who read it.