Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness

Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons

Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness

Book Pages: 184 Illustrations: Published: April 2016

Author: Jane Lazarre

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

"I am Black," Jane Lazarre's son tells her. "I have a Jewish mother, but I am not 'biracial.' That term is meaningless to me." In this moving memoir, Jane Lazarre, the white Jewish mother of now adult Black sons, offers a powerful meditation on motherhood and racism in America as she tells the story of how she came to understand the experiences of her African American husband, their growing sons, and their extended family. Recounting her education, as a wife, mother, and scholar-teacher, into the realities of African American life, Lazarre shows how although racism and white privilege lie at the heart of American history and culture, any of us can comprehend the experience of another through empathy and learning.
This Twentieth Anniversary Edition features a new preface, in which Lazarre's elegy for Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many others, reminds us of the continued resonance of race in American life. As #BlackLivesMatter gains momentum, Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness is more urgent and essential than ever.


"A terrifically courageous piece of work. I cannot think of another text written by a white woman that is like it, and I cannot imagine one that would address these complex issues with greater lucidity, grace, intelligence, and love."  — Claire Bond Potter, The New School

"A beautifully written, deeply thoughtful journey into the worlds of self and other."  — Kirkus Reviews

"Lazarre cuts close to the bone in this penetrating 'story of the education of an American woman.'"  — Mary Carroll, Booklist

"[A] compelling story of one mother's honest efforts to reach across the chasm between black and white America to comfort and guide her sons as they navigate their way to adulthood and self-sufficiency."  — Gregory Howard Williams, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A novelist, essayist, and teacher, Lazarre presents her troubling but clear-eyed vision of her life and times with incisiveness and grace."  — John Gregory Brown, Chicago Tribune

"The inimitable eloquence of Lazarre's Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness defies facile summation."  — Kwame Okoampahoofe Jr., New York Amsterdam News

"A compassionate, compelling outpouring of anecdotal family stories and confessionals . . . that fine-tune the reader's awareness to racism in everyday life. Lazarre's voice is artful and measured, like a friend's, and her prose is thick with images . . . Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness provides substantial food for thought for both white and black perspectives on the murky issue of race in America."  — Publishers Weekly

"Powerful, moving, and beautifully written. . ."  — Richard L. Zweigenhaft, News & Record

"This insightful Jewish mother opens our eyes to the pervasiveness of racism in our culture—a reality that Jews and other whites can easily ignore."  — Rabbi Rachel Cowan author of Mixed Blessings: Marriage between Christians and Jews

"[An] illuminating book . . . Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness offer[s] invaluable insights not just for those working to raise children in biracial families, but for all who would like to understand the notion of whiteness in order to see beyond it and reach for fairness."  — Boyd Zenner, Women's Review of Books

"This is a passionate, provocative, and moving narrative that should be on every American's reading list. Jane Lazarre writes from an angle of vision that seems completely missing from the fractured and deeply troubled discourse about race in America. Her honesty and courage in telling this story is as instructive as it is praiseworthy, compelling us to think and feel differently."  — Sekou Sundiata author of The Circle is Unbroken Is a Hard Bop

"[Lazarre] . . . moves the reader. . . . When she writes, 'I wish I could become Black for my sons,' she delves straight into the heart of her dilemma."  — Helen Schulman, Elle

"Lazarre's book is deeply personal and at the same time profoundly observant and knowledgeable..... The immense significance of becoming a mother, the paradox of a lifelong love that begins with a separation at birth, is an ongoing theme in this brave and complex treatise." — Irma Kurtz, Jewish Chronicle

"An important affirmation of a white woman's love of her Black sons. Jane Lazarre, warrior mom, has crossed over."  — Alice Walker

“At the heart of this deeply felt book is the uncomfortable truth, as Jane Lazarre puts it, that ‘most whites simply have no idea how different African American life is from their own.’ It is her own journey to understand this truth that she takes us on, through her experience of lifelong love for three Black men—her husband and two sons.”  — Adam Hochschild

"In the end there is the great gift of being taken into the life of American black culture. On the way there, this mother and child—the most intimate relationships from infancy—has no public or political recognition for years. A kind of love story and useful as well to people in interracial lives and families."  — Grace Paley

"Through the profoundly human caring of this book; its luminous beauty, passionate authenticity, truth and power; its multi-lensed and sourced hard-wrung wisdom—and yes, through the art with which it is written—we see, feel, understand what we never have before, the ways of the Whiteness of Whiteness; and we are challenged, enlarged, and enabled, as was Jane Lazarre, to move Beyond. This revelation book, so capable of creating change-making comprehension, is of crucial importance for our country's self-knowledge and vision."  — Tillie Olsen

"Jane Lazarre has written an extraordinary book. Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness is a personal memoir, a lively tale of teaching and family life, humorous, sad and loving. Yet Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness is also a profoundly political book. Through maternal, autobiographical reflection, Jane Lazarre confronts the white racism that has shaped American society and remains our harshest tragedy and deepest challenge."  — Sara Ruddick, author of Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace

"Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness will be the classic Lazarre's The Mother Knot has become, a book in which a piece of American experience gets its full telling, a necessary book."  — Ann Snitow


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jane Lazarre is the author of many books, including the memoirs Wet Earth and Dreams: A Narrative of Grief and Recovery and The Mother Knot, both also published by Duke University Press, and the novels Inheritance and Some Place Quite Unknown. She founded and directed the undergraduate writing program at Eugene Lang College at the New School for ten years and taught creative writing and literature there for twenty years. She has also taught at the City College of New York and Yale University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Preface to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition  xiii

Prologue  xxvii

1. The Richmond Museum of the Confederacy  1

2. Color Blind: The Whiteness of Whiteness  21

3. Passing Over  53

4. Reunions, Retellings, Refrains  99

5. A Color with No Precise Name  125

Notes  137
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6166-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6147-3
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