Saturday, November 10, 2007

What we talk about when we talk about race

You can tell a journalist wrote Adam Canfield of the Slash, because it's jam-packed with issues we talked about in J-101, from media consolidation to anonymous sources. It's not a tall tale in the Maniac Magee sense of the word, but it plays like one. The adults are caricatures and the kids operate like they've never heard of "grounded" or "bedtime."

I'm not sure kids really care about that kind of authenticity, though. I mean, don't they all wish they had the mobility, vocabulary, and independence of TV show kids? Hell, I wish I had all that. Anyway, the plot to this story's great, and the dialogue is, dare I say, snappy.

But there's another thing that's a little weird in an is-it-just-me kind of way. The main characters are named Adam and Jennifer, and 1/2 way through the story, the two get on a bus, and Adam realizes he's the only white person on the bus, and I realize that Jennifer is African-American. OK, maybe I'm obtuse, but I think the writer's trying to be tricky.

Then a woman on the bus gives them a speech about the beauty of two different colored children being friends and how that's going to change the world. What I like about the scene is Adam's feelings of disorientation. It's like suddenly he sees his own life from a different perspective--like it suddenly occurs to him that there is a different perspective. But I don't like the way the people on the bus appear for his enlightenment and then disappear again.

Lately I've read a few books that touch on white privilege (A Summer of Kings, Ethan Suspended) and they come dangerously close to celebrating the innocence of white kids, like, awwww, isn't it cute they don't know anything about racism? But it isn't cute, and they do know stuff. They just also know that they aren't supposed to talk about it. And until we get white kids talking about race, we're not going to be able to change what they think they know.


david elzey said...

You don't know how close to home this hits! I've been wrestling with a review (due last Friday) of the follow-up book Adam Canfield, Watch Your Back which pulls the same stunt about withholding the character's races until midway. Having not read the first book (trying to review the book at hand on its own merits) I felt out-of-left-field about everything, and... yeah.

I agree, I think the author is trying to make a message out of it, and fails miserably, especially when a story sudden becomes one based on race and in the end there's no discussion (much less resolution) of the problems at hand.

I'm still wrestling with the review, but I was glad to see I wasn't the only one caught off guard by this author's style.

Anonymous said...

What we talk about when we talk about donuts.

Cloudscome said...

You are right about getting the white kids to talk about race. I hear people say kids today say race isn't an issue for them any more but I think they are often following the "don't see it, don't say it" rule.

I haven't read this book yet, but I am interested in both of you saying you felt weird about not realizing the characters race until half way through. I think if the story is not about race that would be OK. I don't think we need to be told who is what race right from the get-go. But if the story is about Adam's racial epiphany then I guess it would be odd to keep it quiet until the middle of the book. Another place where silence and race are connected?