The racism of people who love you Essays on mixed race belonging

Samira K. Mehta

Book - 2023

"An unflinching look at the challenges and misunderstandings mixed-race people face in family spaces and intimate relationships across their varying cultural backgrounds"--

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Boston, Massachusetts : Beacon Press [2023]
Main Author
Samira K. Mehta (author)
Physical Description
x, 187 pages ; 23 cm
  • Author's Note
  • Introduction
  • 1. Where Are You Really From? A Triptych
  • 2. Meat Is Murder
  • 3. Failing the Authenticity Test
  • 4. American Racism
  • 5. Appropriation
  • 6. Mentoring
  • 7. The Racism of People Who Love You
  • Acknowledgments
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Mehta (Beyond Chrismukkah), a gender studies professor, muses on race and the performance of identity in this candid collection. The essays present a "story of moments," Mehta writes, "when my white family and the friends that I have made... in Primarily White Institutions have been, however unintentionally, sources of racism in my life." In "Where Are You Really From? A Triptych," Mehta examines how she navigates answering the question, considering her white mother was born in the Midwest, her father was born in Multan, now part of Pakistan, and she herself grew up outside New Haven, Conn. Elsewhere, Mehta probes the distinct discomforts of "mixedness," which "does not quite fit into anyone's boxes," and wonders where the lines are that separate cultural exchange from cultural appropriation. Particularly strong is the title essay, about a close male friend who dismissed her humiliating and painful experience of being screened by the TSA: "What do you do about the people whom you cannot (or very much do not want to) remove from your life?" Though Mehta asks more questions than she answers, her emphasis on "listen across difference" is earned and lands with force. The result is a sharp, poignant series of essays. (Jan.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An exploration of the challenges facing mixed-race people in the U.S. Mehta, who teaches women, gender, and Jewish studies at the University of Colorado, melds memoir, cultural criticism, and theory in candid essays about identity. With a South Asian father and a White mother, she was raised primarily in her mother's culture, growing up in a small Connecticut town and traveling once to India when she was 24. As an adult, she converted to Judaism; matzah ball soup is her comfort food. Being mixed race, Mehta reveals, affects everything in her life, from food choices to dress, holiday celebrations to friendships, and especially her sense of community. "Perhaps my biggest 'failure' of authenticity, certainly my most longstanding," she writes, "is that I do not like Indian food." In addition, she's a vegetarian, setting her apart from both sides of her family, especially at Thanksgiving dinners. Mehta is surprised to learn that vegetarianism has political implications in India: How, she wonders, did she end up "with all the habits of a high-caste person without even understanding that those habits are ways of enforcing caste politics?" Authenticity, intersectionality, and cultural capital, she acknowledges, are complex issues. In choosing clothing, for example, how can one distinguish cultural appropriation from cultural exchange? Mehta's overarching concern is the insidious nature of unintended racism. She has discovered that "white parents of non-white children can…be very resistant" to thinking about their children's experiences of racism. "I could talk, with my mother, about the ways that my father's family and the Indian community made me feel not Indian enough," she writes, "but I could not necessarily talk to her about what happened in the context of my white, liberal, Unitarian Universalist family when I experimented with being Indian"--for example, by wearing Indian dress. Although mixed-race individuals long for communities of those who share their experiences, the nuances of those experiences complicate feelings of connection. Thoughtful meditations on identity. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.