Family History in Black and White

A Novel

Series: 

Watch the Promotional Trailer Here! Within today’s rapidly shifting racial demographics, knowing who to trust can be risky. Family History in Black and White: A Novel traces two competitors for the prestigious position of school superintendent. One is white and one is black; both are urban high school principals. Ben, who had been bullied as a child, craves public recognition but, unsure whether he can trust today’s competitive process to be fair to a white man, wrestles with compromising his own integrity to get what he wants. Roxane, who has navigated racism all her life, craves recognition of her humanity, but can’t be sure which of the professionals around her are actually trustworthy, including her chief competitor, Ben. In the end, both must ultimately reckon with the reverberations of a surprising twist in their histories.

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Christine Sleeter, PhD, is Professor Emerita at California State University Monterey Bay, where she was a founding faculty member. She has published widely on anti-racist multicultural education, ethnic studies, and teacher education. Her most recent book is White Bread, Anniversary Edition (Brill Sense, 2020).
“Set in Northern California, Christine Sleeter’s follow up to White Bread (her first novel), Family History in Black and White, stitches together poignant examples of the real and realistic struggles of educators trying to do the right thing while confronting their own implications in a broader racialized history. Her protagonists, Ben and Roxane, show us that racism is both intimate and universal, dispiriting while providing the condition for a refusal of despair. Weaving together stories of love and heartbreak, family life and institutions, Sleeter not only engages our politics but stokes our imagination for a better education and a more just future.” – Zeus Leonardo, Professor, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Race Frameworks: A Multidimensional Theory of Racism and Education

Family History in Black and White is a primer for anyone who wants to learn about history, race, gender, school dynamics, teaching, curriculum, ethnic studies, urban school reform, and so much more. This novel is full of intellectual ideas but does what a university textbook, academic book, or research article cannot. It offers a provocative, page-turning plot that will pull you in, even as it teaches you about some of the most intractable problems found in society and schools today. I cannot wait to use this in my graduate course!” – Keffrelyn D. Brown, Professor and Distinguished University Teaching Professor, The University of Texas at Austin

“It’s hard to say which narrative twist is more compelling: the one in which Christine Sleeter genre-jumps with inspiring finesse and dexterity or the one that darn near jumped from the page in the second half of Family History in Black and White. Read this book and, like me, enjoy both twists at once.” – Paul Gorski, Ph.D., Equity and justice educator, writer, and activist, and author of Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty

“Christine Sleeter, a trusted voice in educational research, uses the art of the novel to center critical issues in education. Through Roxane and Ben, relatable characters who come from different backgrounds, but whose lives are surprisingly intertwined, the reader is reminded of the costs of personal ambition in a system that doesn't always play fair. Through stories revealing the complicated nature of their present and past lives, the book critiques the inequitable systems we all live within; takes on gentrification and bias, and lays out a history absent from most of today’s classrooms. All at once, Family History in Black and White reveals the need for historical literacy, the lasting impact of generational trauma, and serves as a reminder of our pasts while offering hope for our future.” – Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz, Teachers College, Columbia University and author of Love from the Vortex & Other Poems

“Christine Sleeter's brilliant novel takes up issues of trust, educational leadership, and racism in America's public schools--topics that usually appear only in educational texts. It makes a compelling case that we need trust. With racial dynamics engrossing the world's imagination, this riveting novel will forever shift your views on race and education.” – Muhammad Khalifa, President of the Culturally Responsive School Leadership Institute, and Professor of Educational Administration at the Ohio State University

“In Family History in Black and White Christine Sleeter effectively and brilliantly examines the complexities of leadership within contemporary contexts and intersecting issues of race and class. Using a fictional approach and storytelling Christine captures some of the tensions that practitioners and academics are wrestling with. The work is unique in its approach and focuses on an area that needs to be critically examined. In this book, Christine courageously tackles pressing issues in education leadership and schooling in an unconventional manner. It will greatly benefit educational leadership scholars, students and professionals.” – Ann E. Lopez, Director of the Centre for Leadership and Diversity, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and author of Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Leadership in Diverse Contexts: From Theory to Action

“This novel, by a nationally well-respected education scholar, Christine Sleeter, is ostensibly about a Black female principal and a White male principal competing for the same superintendency of a racially diverse district. While we see family dynamics at play for each, it also has race and racism interwoven throughout, both within education and within each principal’s and their families’ personal lives. In addition, it has surprising plot twists and an unexpected and provocative history of each family’s prior racial connections in the Jim Crow South, drawn from Sleeter’ own family history. If you want to learn from fiction about education and race or if you are teaching about the same, this book would be an excellent choice." – James Joseph Scheurich, Professor, Urban Education Studies Doctoral Program, Indiana University – Indianapolis (IUPUI), and author of Anti-Racist Scholarship

“Christine Sleeter’s latest novel, Family History in Black and White, confronts difficult issues of systemic racism and how to right past wrongs head on. As two San Francisco Bay Area high school principals, one Black, one White, compete for a school district superintendency, conflicts arise around how they approach their principal jobs in diverse school settings and what they want for their families. While Sleeter digs into controversial topics such as racial justice and neighborhood integration, she includes a historical story, reminding readers that no matter how diverse we feel, we all have a past that intricately weaves us together.” – Mary Smathers, Educator, educational entrepreneur, and author of In This Land of Plenty
Preface

Chapter 1: An Opportunity
Chapter 2: Ambition
Chapter 3: Aspiration
Chapter 4: Survival
Chapter 5: Playing Chess
Chapter 6: Resolve
Chapter 7: Agitators
Chapter 8: Competing Visions
Chapter 9: Third Reconstruction
Chapter 10: Qualifications Meet Treachery
Chapter 11: Fallout
Chapter 12: Truth-telling
Chapter 13: Second
Chapter 14: Ambition’s Cost
Chapter 15: Surprises
Chapter 16: Back to Beginnings
Chapter 17: Unraveling Braids
Chapter 18: Shards of History
Chapter 19: Affirmation
Chapter 20: A Better Place

Suggested Discussion Questions
Author’s Note
About the Author
Teachers or school administrators, especially those interested in urban education; anyone interested in race and racism in the U.S.; anyone interested in family history research.