We Cast a Shadow | Speculative Satire for a "Post Post Racial" World
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Publisher: One World
Page Count: 320
Why I Read It: The marketing grabbed me, calling it “Get Out” meets “The Sellout”.
First Sentence: “My name doesn’t matter.”
Reading this was an experience. We have an unnamed Black narrator in an unnamed Southern town sometime in “post post” racial America. Race relations have bottomed out- police surveil Black neighborhoods using infrared cameras, they can legally shave people’s heads against their will, and 9 out of 10 Black men have done jail time for offenses as innocuous as arguing. These men and women do not have a say and barely have a vote- felons can’t vote and the children of felons need a voucher from an upstanding (white) citizen to earn a voting pass. Our narrator is a lawyer who thinks he understands the game and plays the role that his company and society want him to play. He’s trying to be the best provider possible for his wife Penny and their biracial son Nigel. He doesn’t want his son to get caught up in the madness that’s thrust upon he and his Black colleagues every day. Unlike his wife, who believes that Nigel will be able to stand up to injustice and therefore can make it through life unscathed, the narrator is convinced that the only way to protect him is by having Nigel go through the process of demelanization. Demelanization is a very expensive, elite treatment that turns Black skin white, and he sees it as the only way to ensure his success.
The book dives right in. The narrator is at a party for the leaders at his law firm. As an associate he finds it an honor to be asked, although we quickly find out why he was asked to come in costume. Get used to being uncomfortable, dear reader, because the worst of this is not the situations that the author puts our narrator in. It’s that these situations have happened- and do happen- in modern America. From the section where tension bubbles over because of a racist statue to the scene where Black people get blamed for “keeping race alive” - the situations feel just a little too familiar in that Black Mirror kind of way.
I loved reading our narrator interact with his wife, Penny. She’s an activist that works in a hospital who believes in her marriage and seems to "not see race”. At first I couldn’t get a read on her but eventually it does become clear how white privilege affects their relationship. Their marriage is real, multi-faceted, moving, and frustrating, in that way that many of the good literary relationships are. She is vehemently against their son receiving the treatment, and in addition to working toward being able to get him demelanization, the narrator is coercing his son to use lightening cream behind her back.
I was consistently questioning the narrator and his choices. I didn’t trust him but I knew he had his reasons for making the choices that he did. He knows what he’s doing is wrong on some level but sees no other way. He wants his son to be proud of himself but believes that the world they exist in doesn’t allow for that. He sees the lightening cream and demelanization as his way out, and the only way he can prevent “the world [from being] the centrifuge that patiently waits to separate [his] Nigel from his basic human dignity.” And in the end, I came to understand the narrator. He had to debase himself and do so with a smile on his face in order to keep his tenuous position in a society that doesn't want him, and it broke my heart.
But what do I do with this? It remains a priority for me to read more widely so that I’m exposed to viewpoints and worlds outside of my own, but I know it doesn’t stop there. This story helped me understand that I can never truly understand, and reinforced the importance of really listening when I hear about Black experiences.
I really enjoyed reading this. It took work, it made me uncomfortable, and it made me think. I’ve highlighted more passages from this than I have in awhile and the words still have impact weeks later. In the end, this boils down to a story of a father and a son. It’s about choices and society and of wanting to provide the best life you can for your children but learning to accept that they’re their own people. Get this on your radar and stick with it- it’s worth the work and deserves all the accolades it gets.
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