Baker & Taylor
A black woman born to white parents at the height of official apartheid in South Africa describes growing up in a white family, persecuted beacuse of her dark skin and frizzy hair, her reclassification as "coloured," elopement with a black man, estrangement from her parents, life in a poor all-black township, and eventual reunion with her mother after the 1994 end of apartheid. 35,000 first printing.
Blackwell North Amer
When Sandra Laing was born in 1955 to a pro-apartheid Afrikaner couple in South Africa's conservative heartland, she was officially registered as a white child. But from her first day at a white boarding school, a group of students and teachers mercilessly persecuted her because of her brown skin and frizzy hair.
Sannie and Abraham Laing attributed Sandra's appearance to an interracial union far back in their family history and swore Sandra was their child. The neighbors, however, thought Mrs. Laing had committed adultery with a black man. The family was shunned. When Sandra was ten, she was removed from school by the police and reclassified as "coloured" - of mixed race. The Laings, rural shopkeepers, fought their daughter's reclassification all the way to the Supreme Court, but lost. The law, meanwhile, had been amended so that descent, rather than appearance and community acceptance, became the key to determining race. Sandra was declared white again.
Then, as a teenager, Sandra eloped with a black man. Her devastated parents disowned her, although she managed two secret visits to her mother. At first, Sandra had no regrets about leaving the world of white privilege for a poor black township. Despite poverty, illness, and a legal system designed to enslave, Sandra was the happiest she'd ever been - until she was forced to flee with her children and fight for survival in the townships outside Johannesburg at the height of the government's brutal suppression of black resistance. Her life became even more difficult and heartbreaking. In 2000, four years after the peaceful transfer of power to the black majority in South Africa's first free and democratic election, Sandra was reunited with her white mother, ending a twenty-seven year estrangement.
When She Was White is an exploration of the nature of memory, the social construction of race, and the cruelty, insanity, and arbitrariness of apartheid. It's also a personal drama that confirms the resilience of the human spirit despite the terrible ways human beings can hurt one another.
During the worst years of official racism in South Africa, the story of one young girl came to symbolize the injustice, corruption, and arbitrary nature of apartheid. Born in 1955 to a pro-apartheid white couple, Sandra Laing was officially registered and raised as a white child. But at a school for whites, she was mercilessly persecuted because of her dark skin and frizzy hair. Her parents attributed her appearance to an interracial union far back in family history. Their neighbors, however, thought Mrs. Laing had committed adultery with a black man. The family was shunned. When Sandra was ten, she was reclassified as "coloured." As a teenager, she eloped with a black man, her parents disowned her, and having known only the privileged world of the whites, she chose to begin again in a poor, all-black township, where life was a desperate struggle against a legal system designed to enslave.--From publisher description.
Relates the story of Sandra Laing, a black woman born to white parents at the height of apartheid in South Africa, describing how she was reclassified as "coloured" and her subsequent struggle against South Africa's racial laws.