CBS News’ Michelle Miller grapples with race, politics and pain in new memoir
The personal is political — in an unusually raw way, in the case of CBS News journalist Michelle Miller.
Miller, the cohost of “CBS Saturday Morning,” was born to a Black father and a light-skinned Latina mother for whom, the TV journalist tells The Hill, the “assumption of whiteness was clearly the advantage.”
So fervently did Miller’s mother wish to maintain this societal edge that she abandoned the infant Michelle at birth. Miller was raised by her father, her paternal grandmother and a broader circle of family and friends.
Mother and daughter have only had sporadic — and often uncomfortable — contact in the decades since.
Miller tells the harrowing story in a newly-published memoir, “Belonging: A Daughter’s Search for Identity through Loss and Love.”
The book is primarily about Miller’s personal quest to fulfill “a desire to be whole”. But it also grapples with many of the biggest issues facing American society in general — and the media in particular.
In her book, she doesn’t shy away from accusing former President Trump of seeking to win reelection in 2020 by “intensifying racial conflict.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she writes of her struggle to “maintain my professional neutrality on camera, especially as it became clear that communities of color were dying at disproportionate rates.”
As for Critical Race Theory (CRT), she writes that it is “being deployed by right-wing political forces as the new racial dog whistle.”
Tellingly, perhaps, Miller seems more circumspect around the topic of CRT in an on-camera interview with The Hill.
History “should be taught as fact, what actually took place,” she says.
She adds: “I find it very interesting that a lot of my education was spent talking about tall tales and myths about our Founding Fathers, from George Washington to those presidents that came thereafter, that were not based on any truth…History is the story of whoever is telling it.”
But she also recalls the distance she — and American society — has traveled since she was as an intern at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. There, she and other young Black reporters were told by a white executive, “You will need to put your Blackness aside. You can’t be a journalist and Black at the same time. You must be objective.”
Recalling the moment, she tells The Hill: “I found myself raising my hand and essentially telling him…‘Sir, I wasn’t born an 8lb. 9oz. journalist. I was born a Black woman, a Black child. I can no further discard my Black womanhood than you could discard your white maleness.”
Miller argues that, in journalism, though truth and fairness ought to be sacrosanct, “Objectivity, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist in any one of us.”
The quest to come to terms with what happened in infancy has animated much of Miller’s life. Now 55, she has been a TV journalist for decades.
The book has moments of acute pain, such as when Miller as a child begins to recognize the racial dynamics behind her mother’s decision.
At one point, her father takes the 9-year-old Miller to see her mother because he knows his former lover will soon be leaving the country with her soon-to-be husband.
The meeting does not go well. Afterward, as her father tries to explain some of the context to her, Miller’s reaction is: “My mother didn’t want me. My skin wasn’t light enough to make her stay.”
In adulthood, Miller believed she had begun to come to terms with her mother’s abandonment until she had children of her own with her husband Marc Morial, the civil rights activist and former mayor of New Orleans.
She “stumbled upon a vast reservoir of hurt that I hadn’t even realized I was still carrying,” she writes.
For all that, Miller is insistent that neither the book, nor her life, be seen as sad.
“It’s 300 pages of memories and joy and pain, understanding, tributes to people. It really is a love letter as much as it is a setting of the record straight — to my family, my friends, those people who supported me in times and filled the void where all that absence was,” she says.
But, even so, she pauses when asked if the book was written with some lingering hope that its publication might spur her mother — who is now in her 80s — to reach out to her.
“Perhaps. I have to be honest about that. Perhaps,” she says.
“I do concede that maybe there was a lingering hope for that. I don’t know if I expect it. I might hope for it. I’m not sure I expect it.”
“Belonging: A Daughter’s Search for Identity Through Loss and Love,” by Michelle Miller, is published by Harper Collins.
Watch The Hill’s full interview with Michelle Miller above.
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