Growing Up Black in White is Kevin D. Hofmann's memoir of growing up as a bi-racial adoptee in an all-white family. When I began reading Hofmann's book I expected to enjoy the read, but I doubted I would find anything new. No stranger to transracial adoption experiences, I assumed his book would be a variation on a familiar theme.
I made a note in the margin on page 5. And on page 8. And on page 13. Thirty-five notes in all in a 168 page book. Growing Up Black in White is definitely not merely a variation on a familiar theme.
What Hofmann does so well is tell his story. He simply tells his story, without activism or criticism or politics, and that's what I found so moving. He writes sincerely and humorously about the joys and challenges of his childhood, growing up, and his racially-mixed family. Other than demographic details, the chronicle of his personal evolution is thematically similar to that of Langston Hughes, William E.B. DuBois, and James Weldon Johnson. But Hofmann's story is uniquely accessible.
The story of Hofmann's childhood is the story of my childhood, told from the "other" side of my black friends. The "black side" that I never saw. His is the story of being black, of "acting white" and wanting to be more black. It's the story of what Natalie and Jamie and Diana listened to and talked about when they weren't at my house listening to Bobbie Sherman and Peter, Paul & Mary. It's the story of how much of themselves they kept hidden from me... without me ever knowing.
Hofmann made me realize that in some ways Billy Council and I experienced our sandbox marathons very differently - he as the son of our hired housekeeper and me as the daughter of his mother's employers - and in other ways very much the same - as two kids enjoying summer in each other's company. Growing Up Black in White has me reliving scenes from the Virginia Beach Kings Grant Elementary School cafeteria and understanding for the first time why Natalie and her mother always sat in the last pew in church rather than sitting up front with us. I always thought it was just because our mothers didn't want Nat and me fooling around in church.
Growing Up Black in White is poignant, funny, and enlightening. Hofmann's decision to steep his story in the ordinary moments of life was inspired. His book pulses with an authenticity that will transport you back to your own childhood. If you spend any time at all there I trust you will see things you never saw before. Because as Hofmann shows, regardless of your skin color growing up is never simply black and white.
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