Synopsis: Rebecca Carroll grew up the only black person in her rural New Hampshire town. Adopted at birth by artistic parents who believed in peace, love, and zero population growth, her early childhood was loving and idyllic—and yet she couldn’t articulate the deep sense of isolation she increasingly felt as she grew older.
Everything changed when she met her birth mother, a young white woman, who consistently undermined Carroll’s sense of her blackness and self-esteem. Carroll’s childhood became harrowing, and her memoir explores the tension between the aching desire for her birth mother’s acceptance, the loyalty she feels toward her adoptive parents, and the search for her racial identity. As an adult, Carroll forged a path from city to city, struggling along the way with difficult boyfriends, depression, eating disorders, and excessive drinking. Ultimately, through the support of her chosen black family, she was able to heal. Intimate and illuminating, Surviving the White Gaze is a timely examination of racism and racial identity in America today, and an extraordinarily moving portrait of resilience.
Thank you so much to Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with an ARC of Surviving the White Gaze. Something that I want to continue working on this year is having a very diverse reading list, and I’ve committed to making sure that the books that I accept to review are written by members of the LGBTQIA+ community, or BIPOC authors. This memoir, along with the two other ARCs I received from Simon & Schuster for this publishing period, were all written by authors of colour, and I’m excited to continue supporting the work of authors of colour here on my blog.
While I know that memoirs maybe aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, I have really been getting into them this year. I have read some fantastic memoirs from super interesting people, and Rebecca Carroll’s is up there on the list of the most engaging ones. Carroll is very open about the relationships in her life, and vividly depicts how race has impacted her relationships with her family, significant others, and employers. While the discussion of how race can impact interpersonal relationships isn’t ground breaking, what I did find incredibly unique (at least from what I have read, maybe not to others) is the discussion of internalized racism, and how it can impact one’s relationship with oneself. Rebecca grew up as the only Black person in her town, and for many years of her life was not close to any older Black people. As a result, she has to construct her own identity and connection to Blackness, and seeing her struggle with that was a really emotional look into an aspect of racism that I don’t is as widely discussed as visible acts of racism.
Another part of the book that struck me was the discussion of Carroll’s relationship with her birth mother, Tess. While it was really hard to read about how the relationship between the two of them deteriorated, I feel like Carroll also brings attention to how insidious emotional and verbal abuse can be. It was easy to identify Tess’s treatment of Carroll as abusive as an outsider, but Carroll really brings you through the steps of how she came to recognize it herself. As someone who has witnessed an emotionally abusive relationship, you really do try to logic it away, especially if you don’t want to see it. Facing it takes a lot of courage, and I’m glad that Carroll was eventually able to do just that.
There were also so many little moments in the book that I really loved. Carroll often mentions how beauty standards promote ideals of white supremacy, and how the standard of beauty is the tiny white woman. She also discusses eating disorders, depression, and how the medical system is inherently racist. She mentions white feminism, and how true feminism must be intersectional instead of catering to white women. There are so many little things that really stood out to me about this book, and even though the main point wasn’t to discuss all of these issues, I still feel like Carroll does a great job of mentioning them in passing. Also, I think that even though a lot of her book mentions difficult experiences of racism and misogynoir, there are also real moments of Black joy that were beautiful. Like when she writes about Lottie and how she brushed and oiled her hair, or how she built her relationships with Ruby, Deja and Caryn. Another moment that really got me was how she described her relationship with her son, Kofi. The absolute joy and pride that I felt through the pages when she described him was beautiful.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Carroll gave a very real glimpse into her life, and shared many personal moments. I would like to say a very sincere thank you to her, as writing this book probably wasn’t easy, but the end result is absolutely incredible. Surviving the White Gaze is out tomorrow, on Feb. 2nd, and I really think that you should pick up a copy.
Have a great week ducks, and I’ll be back again soon with more reviews 🙂