As Jennine Capó Crucet makes clear in her thought-provoking collection of essays, My Time Among the Whites, whether you are or are not white isn’t just the point—it’s everything. If you are white, the culture that absorbs you so easily may well be taken for granted. In this country, you’ve known little else. If you are not white, it’s the depth and breadth of that white culture that either pushes you to the side or inspires you to push back. For Crucet, there’s no question about which way to go, and in her exquisitely fierce way, she does.
Born to Cuban American parents who were little help when it came to navigating the whiter world outside Miami, Crucet became her family’s cautious, always mindful pioneer. She learned fast—first at Cornell as an undergrad, later when she married (and then divorced) a middle-class white “dude” and finally as a tenured professor at the University of Nebraska.
Like Crucet’s debut novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, the first essay in this book could serve as a primer for first-generation college freshmen. Crucet and her family drove from Florida to Ithaca, New York, to begin her first year at Cornell, a school she chose because she liked the fall foliage pictured on a brochure her high school guidance counselor was about to throw away. After orientation, her parents and grandmother didn’t know it was time for them to leave. There was only one Latinx professor (who became her mentor) in her time there. Her classmates struggled to comprehend the culture she wrote about in class. She became “the official Latinx ambassador . . . an unintentional act of bigotry [that] has a name: it’s called spotlighting.”
In the hilarious “Say I Do,” Crucet battles with Freddy, her mother’s choice for wedding DJ. His playlist catered only to her Cuban family, because “all those Americans . . . don’t dance. They don’t nothing.” In “Imagine Me Here,” as a guest speaker at a predominantly white Southern college, Crucet compelled the students to address the lack of color in their faculty. It did not go well.
“Is it uncomfortable reading all this?” Crucet asks in this timely, vital collection. “Does your answer depend on your race, on whether or not you consider yourself white?” Or “are you not yet uncomfortable . . . because, as a white person, you’ve gotten to be just you your whole life?”