The Racism of People Who Love You: Essays on Mixed Race Belonging (2023) by Samira K. Mehta
Cannonball Read 15, review #3
Book: 5 stars
Audiobook narration: 5 stars
First things first
Full Disclosure: The author is a friend. That doesn’t have any bearing on my review of the book, though it did affect some of my experience of reading (listening to) the book.
The Racism of People Who Love You is a very good book, and you should read it. In seven thoughtful, compelling, and sometimes (frequently) devastating essays, author Samira Mehta examines the broad concept of what she refers to as “mixedness” through the lens of her particular lived experience as the daughter of a South Asian immigrant father and a white American mother. The essays are about her and her family and about race, culture, and belonging both within and beyond her family. They are also about gender, friendship, work, and class, among other things. Mehta touches on a lot in this fairly brief book, but it all comes up organically because Mehta’s identity and experiences are touched by all of it. Throughout, Mehta pulls off an impressive set of balancing acts, weaving theory through stories, knitting personal memories, public histories, family dynamics, and cultural norms together with brutal honesty and no small amount of tenderness as she attempts to understand hurtful behavior without excusing it.
Belonging of the sort under discussion here is, by definition, a communal activity, so I hope many members of many communities will read this book. Mehta’s writing is clear and compelling, and she moves deftly between anecdote and analysis. The combination means that once the book is in paperback, I can easily imagine it being used in classrooms, passed around between friends, and slipped into the hands of family members. That last possibility is the one I hope for most: that mixed-race people find these essays and see themselves and their loved ones reflected in ways that resonate. In addition to the power of feeling “seen,” even—perhaps especially—when what is seen is difficult to witness, I think the book offers tools that could help mixed-race folks have conversations with their loved ones that might be difficult but are definitely necessary (and precisely because of the realities and power dynamics that make them difficult).
A note on the audiobook:
I was concerned that the fact that it’s my friend’s book, which is specifically about her experience, but not my friend’s voice might be a distraction, but it wasn’t. The narration was great. Fun fact: I mentioned to the author that there’s a little bit of vocal resemblance, and she told me she and the narrator had spoken of it and that the narrator leaned into some of the places where their voices and accents are already similar, which I thought was cool.