With the support of her parents, Elaine learned to embrace and be proud of her race at an early age.   2

from book

Elaine remembers the day she realized she was different. She was three years old, and her preschool teacher had just given her and her classmates an assignment: using images from magazines, make a collage representing your family. Even at that young age, Elaine had inklings of her otherness. Newark, California, the tiny town where she was raised, was overwhelmingly white. Sure, there were a few first-generation Asian, Mexican and Indian families, but a cultural melting pot it was not. Elaine’s family simply didn’t look like anyone else’s. Her father, Jack, was white. Her mother, Debra, was black. And Elaine’s older brother, Eric Charles, was – like little Elaine herself – caramel-taffy brown. In the classroom, surrounded by busy white toddlers, little Elaine tried to find images that looked like her family. Finding a dad was easy enough – sort of. She found a white, suitcase-carrying businessman (Jack actually worked as a carpenter). Finding a black mom and a brown brother proved much harder. So she did what any little girl might do: she copied her classmates and used images of white people. When her mother saw Elaine’s handiwork, she delivered one of her classic lines –“Houston, we have a problem” – and sat Lainey down at the kitchen table. It was time to have the Race Conversation. With the help of her mom, Elaine redid her collage, this time using more accurate cutouts from Ebony and Essence magazines. When they were done, they taped the collage up by Elaine’s bed as a reminder. Elaine wasn’t, and never would be, white; she was black – and that was something to be proud of. Elaine was lucky. Her parents provided unconditional love and support. She may have felt out of place in the classroom. But back home, she was taught that she was perfect, that she was enough, just the way she was.