This week my third “Writer on Resilience” is Julie Lythcott-Haims, writer, speaker, and former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean. Her first book was How to Raise an Adult, an anti-helicopter parenting manifesto. I read her moving and inspiring second book, Real American: A Memoir, which was my top nonfiction read for 2020. She has a third book coming out in April: Your Turn: How to Be an Adult.
What better day to launch this interview with Julie than the first day of Black History Month? Julie was descended from immigrants and an African who was enslaved. She is Black and biracial, daughter of an African-American father and a white, British mother. She grew up mostly in white spaces, which affected her ability to develop a healthy sense of self.
Throughout her childhood, Julie experienced microaggressions like a friend who loved “Gone With the Wind” telling her she thought of Julie as “normal, not Black.” In high school her locker was defaced with the N-word. And when she got into Stanford, the parent of a friend doubted her academic credentials, as if she had only been let in because of her race. She didn’t know then how lonely she felt.
Julie’s book Real American was like a love letter to her parents and their stories. Their marriage was considered illegal in 14 states when they got married, and both of them had incredible childhood and family stories. They both broke a lot of glass ceilings. She wishes her parents had realized she could have benefited from being around other people of color who could mentor and reassure her.
Stanford was the first place for Julie to be in a healthy population of people of color. She hoped she would find a sense of connection and belonging…but she soon realized that the rest of the Black kids had something in common that she lacked: a lived, conscious committedness to issues that impact Black people.
Julie’s dad told her that white boys would be her friend but would never date her. In Real American, she reflects that she married a white Jewish man as a route to belong in America. Her husband, Dan, is an artist and worked as primary caregiver for their family for much of their marriage. Julie realizes now she was trained to please white people, so of course she would end up with a white person. If she had waited to settle down until she loved the Blackness in her, it’s possible she might have ended up with a person of her color.
When I interviewed Julie, it was shortly after the insurrection in the capital and before we inaugurated our first Black and biracial VP, Kamala Harris. I told her I felt her title Real American seems more important than ever. Julie wrote that Trayvon Martin’s death was her personal Pearl Harbor, the line demarcating before and after she knew Blackness is the core chord in her life, because she is raising a Black son.
While the white nationalists that stormed the capital call themselves patriots and people have been saying this is not what we are as America, Julie can trace her ancestry back to Sylvie, a slave who worked on a plantation in Charleston, SC. You can read Julie’s thoughts about the insurrection here.
“I feel that I'm more a real American than ever. I think we're all real Americans…I don't feel in any way diminished by this. I feel sad, I feel emboldened. I feel I have to do my part to rescue our democracy from the clutches of these sorts of willful lies and conspiracy theories.”
For more details on my conversation with Julie, view photos, learn about her books on helicopter parenting, and purchase her books, visit this fuller-detailed blog post.