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Having It All: Black Women and Success.

by Veronica Chambers Doubleday, January 2003 $23.95, ISBN 0-385-50638-4

Ever since the mid-1800s--when the women's suffrage movement pitted white women's and black men's voting interests against one another--black women have known they are the heirs of a dual inheritance: racism and sexism. It's a taxing inheritance that has been the subject of much scrutiny and critique. In Having It All: Black Women and Success, writer Veronica Chambers adds class to the race-gender mix and revisits the well-traveled turf of black female experience to explore how professional women navigate their tony lifestyles, despite lingering racism and sexism in society.

The book begins engagingly enough. "For a long time" Chambers notes, "the media portrayed [successful Black women] as glorious exceptions to the welfare mother rule. But ... the news is this--in a single generation, Black women's lives have improved vastly on key fronts: professionally, academically and financially." She then cites a prominent 2000 study, which found that the number of black women who earned college degrees had increased by a whopping 73 percent over the previous decade--compared with a 47 percent increase for African-American men.

Through interviews with upper middle-class, well-educated professionals, Chambers examines how black women have "changed our perception of ourselves [and] we're changing America's perception of us, too" Oddly, perceptions have changed so much that many of the women's stories are rather unremarkable.

We meet attorney and jet-setter Crystal Ashby, who admits that she has "more money than my mother ever dreamed of earning." Computer software developer Donna Auguste says as long as you can "deliver the results," race and gender have little bearing on professional achievement. Journalist Angela Kyles notes that while interviewing for jobs abroad, she wasn't regarded as a "Black woman" And so on. Sure, finding black male companionship can be a challenge. There's the guilt that comes with having too few African-American friends. And it's lonely being the only black face at the tennis club. But haven't many of us heard this before?

If you read Leanita McClain's A Foot in Each World, Brent Staples' Parallel Time, dozens of post-Civil Rights memoirs, or anything Lawrence Otis Graham has ever committed to paper, you've essentially read Having It All. If you're not familiar with books about the lives of the black elite, and you're an isolated prep school grad/Ivy League coed who thinks you're the only black girl who speaks Russian and has an interest in studying Japanese architecture, and who still doesn't know that your foremothers have already paid the price of your ticket, well, then Having It All may just be the permission you need to soar.

--E. Assata Wright is a freelance writer living in Jersey City, N.J.
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Author:Wright, E. Assata
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Previous Article:Gender Talk: the Struggle for Women's Equity in African-American Communities.
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