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Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America

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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 h 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.


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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 h 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.

57 review for Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    Sen narrates her journey from a very privileged life in India to that of a minority immigrant in Massachusetts. From the age of 12, race becomes a part of her life as she struggles to navigate the confusing journey to “becoming an American” with her foreign accent betraying her light skin. Not Quite, Not White is part personal history and part academic treatise, and while I wish it were a bit less academic, that doesn't diminish the importance of what Sen has to say. A highlight is the section in Sen narrates her journey from a very privileged life in India to that of a minority immigrant in Massachusetts. From the age of 12, race becomes a part of her life as she struggles to navigate the confusing journey to “becoming an American” with her foreign accent betraying her light skin. Not Quite, Not White is part personal history and part academic treatise, and while I wish it were a bit less academic, that doesn't diminish the importance of what Sen has to say. A highlight is the section in which Sen talks about how male British travelers and explorers have historically “gone native” by appropriating the dress / culture of places like India, the Middle East, etc., and how these men derived power from the fact that they weren't actually “not white.” Sen casts “going native” as something that only white men can do, as they can slip back into their original privilege whenever convenient. Overall, I really appreciated how thought-provoking this book was.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susie Dumond

    In this memoir, Sharmila Sen uses her experience of immigrating from India to the U.S. to explore notions of race and whiteness. The strongest part of the book is the last chapter, where she solidifies her argument and broadens the conversation. Prior to the last chapter, it lacks an engaging arc or argument for me. She introduces a lot of interesting ideas, like white men "going native" and American vs. Americanized. However, I wish her perspective had been a little more contextualized and her In this memoir, Sharmila Sen uses her experience of immigrating from India to the U.S. to explore notions of race and whiteness. The strongest part of the book is the last chapter, where she solidifies her argument and broadens the conversation. Prior to the last chapter, it lacks an engaging arc or argument for me. She introduces a lot of interesting ideas, like white men "going native" and American vs. Americanized. However, I wish her perspective had been a little more contextualized and her arguments set up a little more clearly from the beginning. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alex Yard

    I got my own ARC of this entry and in turn provided a full fledged review of my thoughts and impressions. That all-out review is located on RunSpotRun.com. In brief, the best way to describe this book is that it is engaging and enraging. It's articulate and interesting and speaks to an interesting corner of humanity. But its logical arguments are totally far fetched, tripped up in functionless semantics, and the book is filled with so many contradictions and catch-22s that it is counterproductive I got my own ARC of this entry and in turn provided a full fledged review of my thoughts and impressions. That all-out review is located on RunSpotRun.com. In brief, the best way to describe this book is that it is engaging and enraging. It's articulate and interesting and speaks to an interesting corner of humanity. But its logical arguments are totally far fetched, tripped up in functionless semantics, and the book is filled with so many contradictions and catch-22s that it is counterproductive to the cause it seeks to support.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Calleen Petersen

    This was a fascinating book to me. I cannot pretend that I know what being an immigrant is like or someone who isn’t white. This book opens a window into that world. There are a lot of parallels between Indian caste and American race, but it was interesting to learn that race isn’t something that really exists in India. Having grown up in the U.S., I had never thought of India being in Asia, but of course it is. A thought provoking book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Danahy

    This should be required reading. I have read so few stories, nonfiction or not, that involve Indians. I am very ignorant of the struggle of Indian immigrants to assimilate to a prejudiced, racist white culture. I'm glad that I've taken my first step out of that ignorance.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Carly Thompson

    Powerful and wonderfully written. The author writes about race and whiteness from her perspective as a Bengali immigrant to the US.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Corinne

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ganesh Ramanathan

  9. 5 out of 5

    J

  10. 4 out of 5

    Asha

  11. 4 out of 5

    Linda

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brayden

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nuku Hiva

  15. 4 out of 5

    gnarlyhiker

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

  17. 4 out of 5

    Steve Walker

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Brown

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rt

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  21. 5 out of 5

    Neil Wadhwa

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  23. 5 out of 5

    Milan Singh

  24. 5 out of 5

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  25. 5 out of 5

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  27. 4 out of 5

    Tarek Ammar

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    Charlie Hersh

  29. 5 out of 5

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  30. 5 out of 5

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  40. 4 out of 5

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    Igrowastreesgrow

  46. 4 out of 5

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  53. 4 out of 5

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  54. 4 out of 5

    Barb Mcnamara

  55. 4 out of 5

    Daryl Moad

  56. 4 out of 5

    Angela

  57. 4 out of 5

    Janice

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