Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America is a memoir written by Sharmila Sen, an Indian American woman and professor of English at Harvard University. The book is short (under 200 pages) and divided into five chapters.
The first chapter is a brief prologue which talks broadly about what it means to be an immigrant, focusing on issues of race and anger (particularly the pressure to hide one’s anger, concealing it behind a façade of smiles and jokes). Chapter 1 describes her life as the only child of an upper-middle-class family in Calcutta in the 1970s. Chapter 2 describes the family’s arrival in Boston in 1982 and her adjustment to US culture and schools; this process included a lot of television and canned-soup casseroles, like many early-80s childhoods. Chapters 3 & 4 reflect on the author’s role as a cultural outsider and how she has negotiated self-presentation and thinking about race in various settings throughout her life, including higher education, work, and motherhood.
I really enjoyed Sen’s descriptions of her childhood experiences, both in India and the US. She presents many vivid images of the foods, places, and entertainments of early life, as well as experiences (both good and bad) with other children she encounters at school and in her neighborhood.
The second half of the book, which focuses on her work to fit in and succeed in the US education system (as both a student and a professor), was interesting as well, although for me as someone who has read a lot about race in the US it wasn’t necessarily anything especially new or informative. But the book was a quick, engaging read throughout, which I would recommend to anyone wanting to think more about immigration and race in the US beyond the basics of Black-White relations.