When I Was White

by Sarah Valentine

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–herrace–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.

Available August 6, 2019

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Editorial Reviews

Fervent and heartfelt. The narrative moves fluidly between past and present as Valentine tries to make sense of the lies and misconceptions that have plagued her throughout her life. This is a disturbing and engrossing tale of deep family secrets.

Publishers Weekly

In this startlingly honest and yet tender memoir, Sarah Valentine unpacks the story of a young woman whose life is shattered by a dark family secret. How does a daughter forgive a mother for the betrayal of lying about her birth and her true father? How does a daughter cope with her mother’s trauma and find acceptance in a family where she never fully belonged? How do you go from being white to black with one revelation? In elegant and gripping prose, Valentine takes us on a journey through America’s suburban heart of darkness; in many ways, this is the story deep in America’s history – racism, fear of miscegeny, and whether or not to believe a woman’s accusation of rape – issues that continue to plague us today. All of this is woven into a story of anger, love and ultimately forgiveness. This book leans beautifully into transformation and a well-earned grace. A perfect book for our times.

Chris Abani, author of GraceLand and The Secret History of Las Vegas