Belonging is Everything: Talking with Georgina Lawton

Belonging is Everything: Talking with Georgina Lawton

The Rumpus

Donna Hemans

“My teacher’s methods were most definitely trash, but that day she taught me a valuable lesson about race,” Georgina Lawton writes in her memoir Raceless: In Search of Family, Identity, and the Truth about Where I Belong. “She let me know that whiteness is a wholly exclusive racial category based around notions of racial purity, and as such would never allow admittance to anyone like me.” While Lawton’s teacher had drawn boundaries around whiteness that excluded Lawton, her white, Anglo-Irish parents stubbornly insisted that their darker-skinned daughter was white like they were.

In her memoir, out now from Harper Perennial, Lawton describes her family’s silence around her racial identity, their refusal to acknowledge her difference, her own experience with racial reckoning, and the detrimental effects of growing up in a color-blind household. “As a child I spent a very long time trying to work everything out for myself before eventually becoming invested in upholding the story my parents told me: I was theirs and that’s all that mattered,” Lawton writes.

As her father is dying of cancer, Lawton and he briefly speak for the first time about the potential that their DNA is different. After her father’s death in her early twenties, Lawton embarks on a journey of self-discovery, traveling to and living in predominantly Black communities in the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa, in a bid to understand and claim her own identity. The memoir, though, is not solely about Lawton’s childhood and journey. She talks to sociologists, psychologists, and others who, like her, had a part of their identities obscured, to understand how identity is formed and its relationship with race.

I spoke to Lawton recently about the challenges of writing a memoir about a story her family would rather not confront, the necessity and value of family stories, and the lasting impact of silences…

Read the entire interview here.

Tags: , ,