The Sellout by Paul Beatty

 

This was a hard book to get into, but once in, hard to get out of. With sentences that run long and mixes subjects (both grammatical subjects and social topics), that is laden with sarcastic observations of racism in American, blink and you will miss the casually integrated story lines. But once the eye is able to keep up with the pace, the book, you realize, has a hypnotic rhythm that messes with perception.

Beatty turns everything upside down, constantly pushing the reader to see our biases in every nook and cranny of cultural context. The book’s narrator, a.k.a. Bonbon, a.k.a. ‘the sellout’ is the result of his father’s racially charged social experiments. He is a Latin enthusiast turned farmer, surfer, with stalker tendencies. You don’t realize why you are laughing at Bonbon riding to the doughnut shop on a horse, or why you are tilting your head trying to picture a man on an LA city bus carrying his surf-board like a shield, until you realize that subconsciously ‘farmer’ and ‘surfer’ mean ‘white’ to you.

Peeling back stereotypes, Beatty questions identity and highlights the constantly misused, misunderstood, or flat-out-missed point that identifying with a race is different from being ID’d as a race.

 

“That automatic eager-to-please response that’s triggered anytime you’re approached in a store and asked, ‘Do you work here?’ The face worn every moment you’re on the job and not in the bathroom stall, the face flashed to the white person who saunters by patronizingly pats you on the shoulder and says, ‘You’re doing a fine job. Keep up the good work.’ The face that feigns acknowledgement that the better man got the promotion, even though deep down you and they both know that you are the better man and that the best man is the woman on the second floor.”

 

“Is integration, forced or otherwise, social entropy or social order? No one’s ever defined the concept.”

 

“And maybe nonthreatening African-American actors are overrepresented on television. Their master’s degrees from the Yale School of Drama and Shakespearean training having gone to waste, as they stand around barbecue pits delivering lines like ‘Prithee, homeboy. Forsooth, thou knowest that Budweiser is the King of Beers. Uneasy lies the frothy head that wears the crown.’ ”

 

by Johanna Airth

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