A behind-the-scenes look into the lives of successful middle- and upper-middle class African American women, the groundbreaking HAVING IT ALL? is sure to spark discussions from cocktail parties to boardrooms.
In a single generation, black women have made extraordinary strides academically, professionally, and financially. They've entered the workplace at a far greater rate than white women; increased their enrollment in law schools and graduate programs by 120 percent; and many are now running top companies, or in some cases, the country. Isn't that enough? Not necessarily. With sharp insight, award-winning journalist Veronica Chambers explores the challenges and stereotypes she and other African American women continue to endure, and answers the question most often posed to her: What does success mean for black women?
Twenty-first century black women draw their inspiration from a wide range of sources: Claire Huxtable to Audrey Hepburn, snowboarding to basketball, Gloria Steinem to bell hooks. They choose what they like. Yet they are misunderstood by mainstream America and lack an accurate portrayal in the media of their lives. HAVING IT ALL? interweaves the thoughts and reflections of more than fifty women who occupy this territory. The voices range from Thelma Golden, chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, to a Silicon Valley executive, to medical and legal professionals, and stay-at-home "mocha moms."
Successful black women today want it all: marriage, motherhood, engaging work, and prosperity. The difference is that they come to the table with the strength, courage and wisdom of black women ancestors who-did-it-all, even when they didn't-have-it-all. What has gone so undocumented by the media is that modern black women are coming up with creative, satisfying answers to the juggling act that all women face.
Veronica Chambers chronicles this topic for the first time in her absorbing, riveting and groundbreaking book HAVING IT ALL?
In a series of interrelated essays, Chambers (Mama's Girl), explores the lives of middle- and upper-middle-class African-American women. Throughout, Chambers nicely weaves historical and literary anecdotes into her insightful narrative. While identifying this population as linchpins in the astronomical rise of a black middle class, she pursues such questions as how their "creative and indomitable spirit" translated into corporate reality while black men languish; why they no longer feel the need to choose allegiance between race and gender; what the image of Aunt Jemima declares about today's affluent African-American woman; and why they are more likely to be alone than any group of black women before them. Nonetheless, these women, Chambers says, have a strong sense of community and a renewed feeling of empowerment, which enables their transition into a predominantly white mainstream culture. Largely based on interviews of black women defying conventional perceptions, and written for those "who have crafted successful lives without role models or media coverage," the book lends a panoramic effect to such figures as former Whitney curator Thelma Golden, television host Star Jones, Barbara Bush's former press secretary Anna Perez, Anita Hill, and the growing population of African-American stay-at-home moms.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 20, 2003
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Excerpt from Having It All? by Veronica Chambers
Crystal Ashby is the textbook image of a sister on the move. At 40, she's an antitrust lawyer for a major Chicago oil company. She enjoys the fruits of her labor--wears designer clothes, drives a late-model sports car and enjoys jet set vacations. A native of Detroit, you could say that oil is in her blood. "I came from a car family," she explains. "My mom worked for General Motors and my dad worked for Ford." A bright student, she quickly outpaced her classmates at her Detroit elementary school. The principal wanted to skip her two grades. Her mother took that as a sign that the public school system wasn't good enough for her little girl. She searched for a school that could challenge and stimulate her daughter--preferably one that offered scholarships. She found it in The Grosse Pointe Academy, a tony private school in the old-money suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
When it came time to choose a high school, Crystal picked the Academy of the Sacred Heart. By the age of 14, she was well schooled in the art of self-improvement; Sacred Heart had educated Michigan's debutante set for generations. The combination of these two elite private schools gave Crystal a sense of comfort in the mainstream that was foreign to many of her peers in Detroit's inner city. Her education also heightened her sense of entitlement. From an early age, Crystal remembers thinking "Why not me? I always believed that someday I could live in a house like the ones I went to school around, that I could live that lifestyle. For me, it was a reality because I saw it every day. I just wasn't living it every day. But if I was exposed to it, there was no reason to believe I couldn't have it."
She's the only sibling to have attained a professional degree: Crystal's sister works at a medical facility, her brother manages a glass company. While her mother was the architect of her early educational career, mother and daughter inhabit two different worlds. At 40, Crystal is divorced and childless. At the same age, her mother was married with three children and had been working for 20 years. "I probably have more money than my mother ever dreamed of earning," she muses. "I've done things in my life that my mother has never done. And my grandmother? My life fascinates her. Absolutely fascinates her."
A few weeks before our first meeting, Crystal had traveled to London for her company. Her mother, by contrast, spent her entire career in the international division of GM and never once took a business trip. "I travel two or three times a month on business," Crystal says, over cappuccino at an upscale Chicago cafe. "It's nothing for me to get on a plane. I live a lush lifestyle. I have enough money to do the things that I want to do, go to places I want to go, buy the things I want to buy. I live very differently from my family."
Chicago is only a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Detroit. But to Crystal's family, she didn't fly the coop, she jetted away on the Concorde. "My mother lives 20 minutes from my grandmother who lives 20 minutes from my great-grandmother," Crystal tells me when we first meet; it's as if this quick lesson in her family geography should tell me all I need to know about what she's left behind. What surprises me about our subsequent conversations is how much of a comfort Crystal's family is to her, how much she values the fact that theirs is a limited arc of movement and change.
"Part of my job is getting past the color issues, the prejudices and biases," Crystal says. But it's also true that her early years of attending white prep schools has given her a lifetime of training in keeping the peace. "The reality is a lot of my friends are white and a lot of my friends are black," she says. "I work in an environment where my exposure is primarily white. You can either be a loner or assimilate. These are the people that I spend my days with and I like my days to be pleasant."
Her stop-gap against the bitterness and frustration is the time she spends with her family. At work, she says, she is constantly called upon to give the black point of view and to be the bigger person when confronted with a colleague's ignorance. But at home, "I'm just me. None of this stuff goes home. I still bake cakes and cookies at Thanksgiving. I have nieces and nephews to tend to and my mother is still my mother. She still cracks the whip when she needs to. What I do is what I do, it's not who I am."