You In America and the theme of race

“You wished you were light-skinned enough to be mistaken for Puerto-Rican, light-skinned enough so that, in the dim light of the Indian restaurant where you both shared samosas with his parents from a centrally placed tray, you would seem almost like them.
His mother told you she loved your braids, asked if those were real cowries strung through them and what female writers you read. His father asked how similar Indian food was to Nigerian food and teased you about paying when the check came. You looked at them and felt grateful that they did not examine you like an exotic trophy, an ivory tusk. ”

In this paragraph the narrator describes the reader’s discomfort with their own race and the effect the parents has on them. In one sentence, the narrator describes how the protagonist wishes they were not as dark skinned and different from the boyfriend and his family, portraying a desire to “belong” in America. In the others the parents are mentioned as taking a legitimate interest in the protagonist and treating them with respect.

This passage serves to illustrate how no matter how much the boyfriend and his family does to make the protagonist feel included and appreciated, they will still feel like an “other”, as though they don’t belong. Firstly, the narrator describes the characters craving to fit in with the other people at the table to an extreme degree. Secondly, the family is described as being nothing but respectful and treating the protagonist as a human, a person, and not as a “foreigner.” These two parts of the passage paint a picture of desperate insecurity within the protagonist.

Another recent story where we encountered this theme of race and belonging is Quicksand. In it, there are frequent scenes where Helga Crane is painfully aware of how she’s different from the people around her and how badly she wants to be accepted by them, but no matter how they act she cannot let her feeling of “otherness” go long enough to feel as though she belongs.

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