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How a Biracial Journalist Found ‘Belonging’ and Success

In a powerful new memoir, Michelle Miller describes her mother’s abandonment, facing racial bias and forging her own identity

spinner image CBS news show host Michelle Miller and her memoir Belonging
HarperCollins / Michelle Crow - CBS

Only hours after I squinted up at my mother’s face in the delivery room, she was gone.

So begins the remarkable life story of CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, 55. The daughter of a clandestine affair between a married Black physician and a white coworker of Mexican heritage, Miller was abandoned by her mother soon after her birth — in part, because of the color of her skin.

In her new memoir, Belonging: A Daughter’s Search for Identity Through Loss and Love, Miller, cohost of CBS Saturday Morning, describes how she’s tried to make sense of her blurry beginnings, the nurturing community of people who raised her in South Central Los Angeles and made her whole — as well as the challenge of trying to find her place in a world in which she was “both too brown to be white and too light … to be unquestioningly embraced as a Black girl.”

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It’s a deeply personal story, powerfully told.

Miller, who has two children and is married to former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial (now president of the National Urban League), also offers empowering words for those still trying to find their way. “You don’t have to be defined by your origin story,” she said in a recent interview with AARP. “You can create the life you want.”

Here’s more from our interview with the author:

Why did you decide to share your story?

After George Floyd’s murder [in 2020], I was asked to do a retrospective piece of my coverage of social justice issues over the last 30 years for CBS This Morning. I was living in South Central Los Angeles in 1992 when the riots took place after four officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. I told this arc of a story, and in the middle of this three-and-a-half-minute piece, for about 20 seconds, I segued into how racism has affected me since the day I was born. I said something like, “I was born to a father and grandmother who adored me and a mother who, to this day, does not acknowledge my existence.”

People were writing me emails and sending texts, like, “I had no idea!” Everyone was rooting me on to do [this book].

What effect did your mother’s absence have on you?

There was this sense of not knowing where I fit in. I looked different and had an insecurity about that.

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As a mom yourself, how difficult is it to understand your mother’s decision to walk away?

Growing up, I had empathy for her. I had no anger. After meeting her, there was a greater understanding of why she did it. I could imagine [her life]: growing up in a family and being very close to your mother and father, and not only are you skirting the edges of what is familiar to them, but you’re involved with a married man, who happens to be a man of color.

But when my son was born and she didn’t acknowledge that and never asked about him, I was furious. That she couldn’t acknowledge me, I understood, but she had no longing to offer that to my children and that angered me. Then [years later], when she told me that her father and husband had died and her mother had dementia, I thought, Now you can finally acknowledge me. But even then, she couldn’t, and that never sat well with me.

That’s heartbreaking.

She was in love with this man and had a child with him, yet she could never let that be exposed. Anybody living a secret like that must not be fully who they are and must not be able to fully live their life because they’re so terrified about being found out.

You’ve had amazing surrogates helping to raise you: your grandmother, Bigmama, and your Aunt Edna among them. The community stepped up, as well.

When you are marginalized in a greater society, there’s an affinity you have with your fellow cohorts, so to speak — an understanding, a connectivity that comes from shared experiences. It’s this feeling of familiarity, which goes to the core of how we greet each other, even as strangers. Particularly in the South, you’ll see African Americans address each other with “Good morning, sis” or “Good morning, brother.” You are there for each other.

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Your father was also devoted. It sounds as though this extraordinary man — a surgeon who was the first person to tend to Senator Robert Kennedy after he was shot in 1968 — was fully present.

There has been this stereotypical idea of the absentee Black father. I wanted to dispel that. I know so many Black men who are incredible fathers, no matter what their socioeconomic backgrounds. Every father on my block in South Central Los Angeles was present, even in circumstances that were not comfortable or easy.

I also wanted to dispel the stereotype of what South Central, where I grew up, was or is. There was a label placed over this community of color that did not exemplify every situation. It was like all of South Central was a bad neighborhood. That was not my experience. There are communities that are labeled that way across America. Yes, there’s crime and a lack of investment, but there are great people there.

Having a biracial identity led to some confusing and heartbreaking experiences for you. In the ninth grade, you and a white classmate developed a friendship and flirtation. He assumes you are white, but later learns that you’re Black from a classmate. Can you talk a little more about that?

He looked at me with such meanness and with contempt that he could actually be attracted to my Blackness, and never spoke to me again. I told myself, OK, put your Blackness on. Own it. I had been vague for so long. I said, If I deny who I am, then what does that make me?

What do you hope readers will come away with after reading your book?

There are so many of us who are born into circumstances that are “not of the nuclear formalized family.” And there is this idea that you aren’t OK. There’s a negative point of view cast on us based on how we came to be. And for that to be cast on a child is unfair and unkind. I want people to understand that no matter what you come from, that situation doesn’t define you. You can be who you want to be. You can create your life.

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