For the first part of his life, John Blake had a secret. His mother was white. In his new memoir, More Than I Imagined: What a Black Man Discovered About the White Mother He Never Knew​,​ the award-winning CNN journalist is sharing the harrowing details of his childhood, the almost mystical tale of their reunion, and how the entire experience influenced his life choices. "It took me years to forgive and become family with the White relatives who rejected me at birth," he tells EBONY. "I didn’t meet them until I was an adult so the process took years, and it involved difficult conversations, dramatic conversions and one experience, odd as it may sound, that can only be described as paranormal. But in the end, we were able to finally become a family. That took time."

Reexamining his childhood reveals a lot about Blake's professional career path as a reporter who has covered racial divisions in America for 25 years. "I sense that there is a growing belief that we can’t get past racism in this country, so why try? I think it’s dangerous to accept that," he says. He hopes his personal experiences can help mend some of the misunderstanding and pain that it has caused. "I think this is a perfect time to tell such a story."

EBONY: What is a closeted biracial man? How did that affect your childhood, keeping your white background a secret?

John Blake: That’s a term I invented to describe the psychological tightrope I walked while growing up in West Baltimore. I grew up in an era where there were no biracial figures in popular culture, such as President Obama, Kamala Harris or Jordan Peele. And I grew up in an all-Black inner-city neighborhood where we never saw White people, and many people openly despised them. So having a White mother was a source of shame in my world. I marked her race as “Black” on school forms. The result of hiding my identity was moving through the world as if half of my identity had been wiped out. I was filled with a lot of anger and yearning to feel complete.

More Than I Imagined_JOhnBlake2023_Amazon
More Than I Imagined: What a Black Man Discovered About the White Mother He Never Knew
John Blake (Convergent Books, May 2023)

Price: $21

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When you made a connection with your mom at 17, what was your initial reaction? How did you go about learning more about it and reconciling with your past?

I was so shocked that I could barely speak when I first met her. I was shocked to find out why I hadn’t heard from her all my childhood and teenage years. To learn about my past, I put on my reporter’s hat and investigated, interviewing family members, meeting with White relatives, and—this is key—finding a way through faith to connect with the White relatives that had hurt me.

You write that facts don't change people, relationships do. What new relationships formed in your life after your discovery?

I not only formed relationships with my White relatives after meeting my mom, but I joined interracial communities where I was challenged to form friendships with White people for the first time. That was key. I don’t think people change racial attitudes by getting more information and facts or hearing arguments. I heard one person say, you can’t read your way out of racism if you’re White. You have to build relationships and community, and that goes below the surface with people of different races and ethnicities. The interracial churches I attended provided that chance for me to grow in that way. 

You write about your mom’s recent passing, what was your relationship like towards the end?

It was, to paraphrase the title of my book, more than I imagined. Only later did I really see her and not her mental illness. We grew closer. I found ways to connect with her. And I found ways to see that much of the courage and resilience she displayed in an interracial relationship and giving birth to two sons in a segregated America still existed.

Why was now the right time to revisit this part of your life via a memoir?

I’ve been covering racial divisions in this country for 25 years and the racial climate in this country is as bad as I’ve ever seen. I think so many people have been deflated by the White backlash that greeted the election of Obama; the election of Trump, the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville and the January 6 insurrection. Add to that the steady stream of videos capturing the murder of unarmed Black and brown people. I used to think as a reporter, why can’t we tell more stories about race that give people hope? Then I realized that I was living such a story, and it was worth sharing.

Has writing this book changed your life?

I really don’t know yet. Writing was a lonely process. I wrote much of it during the pandemic. I don’t know how people will react to it, if at all. 

Do you think interracial relationship marriage laws are in jeopardy due to the political landscape? How do we handle this?

Not at all. Acceptance of interracial relationships is now embedded in American society. I don’t think we’re going back because it’s become so normalized and because of changing demographics. The American generation 18 and under is the most diverse in our country’s history. Many are children of interracial couples. We’re not going back to an era where being an American is only defined as White. People like my mom and father played a crucial part in creating this new America.