Monday, August 7, 2017

The problematics of identity in America

Gabrielle Bellot reviews Danzy Senna's New People in The Los Angeles Review of Books. From the review:
The problem of the 21st century in the United States is still the color-line, a line that extends back into prior centuries. This is the age of identity — as all ages have been, really, but the very notions of what it means to have an identity or to be something are now, more than ever, at the fore. But even as we have blurred racial lines in ways scarcely imaginable when The Souls of Black Folk appeared in 1903, we still have our clear-cut demarcations. And in many ways, lines of color, alongside the complexities of what it means to pass as one thing or another, may be what best defines Danzy Senna’s epochal — in its most literal sense — new novel, New People. Du Bois is not an explicit presence in the novel, yet his thematic and political concerns — updated, as it were, for this new era — haunt New People. These themes of passing and racial demarcations informed Senna’s first novel, Caucasia, as well. New People also explores an idea common in Percival Everett’s fiction — the two, incidentally, are married — of reclaiming and repackaging racial stereotypes as a person of color. I was particularly reminded of Everett’s hilarious, brilliant novel, Erasure, in which an experimental black author — often read as “white” due to how and what he writes — decides to write an offensively stereotypical narrative of American blackness, which then, ironically, launches him into national success. Despite thematic similarities, Senna’s voice and narrative are distinct and compelling. And her conflicted, white-passing, multiracial protagonist Maria is both a believable — if exasperating — figure and a partial but disquietingly accurate embodiment of the United States in 2017. How do we live in our own skin, the novel seems to ask, when it is living in our own skin that causes so much grief? How do we live when our own body becomes our perpetual enemy, our familiar yet alien desert planet, our inconsistently locked home? 
New People is a paean to the psychosocial complexities of being racially mixed, and, as a result, color-lines, passing, and double-consciousness are everywhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment