Not Quite White: Losing and Finding Race in America; Sharmila Sen

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A memoir manifesto about race, immigration and assimilation; how an Indian American woman navigated through her journey into the heart of "not whiteness"

When Sen emigrated from India to the U.S. in 1982 at the age of 12, she was asked to "self-report" her race. Never identifying with a race previously, she rejects her new "not quite white" designation, and spends much of her life attempting to become "white" in the American sense. After her teen years trying to adapt to American culture, including watching General Hospital and The Jeffersons and perfecting recipes with Campbell's soup or Jell-O, Sen is forced to reckon with hard questions: what does it mean to be "white," who is allowed to be white, why does whiteness retain the power of invisibility while other colors are made hypervisible, and how much does whiteness figure into Americanness? Exploring hot-button topics such as passing, cultural appropriation, class inequality, bias within Indian immigrant communities, and code-switching, Sen offers new angles to the debate on race and immigration with emotional honesty, humor, and thoughtful criticism. Sen discovers her eventual acceptance of her "not whiteness" is actually what makes her American, and as a mother of three not white American children, looking at their own possible future, Sen brings the reader of Not Quite Not White to imagine how America might, by the end of the century, end up being defined outside its borders, in a new diaspora.

August 28, 2018

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