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Further Thoughts On Boy, Snow, Bird

Book cover

As you know, I didn’t rate Boy, Snow, Bird that highly, but as you also know, I absolutely loved Oyeyemi’s study of race. Her handling of it, the way she put into words what she wanted to say, thrilled me in that most literary way. I noted more quotes than I used and would like to use them here.

What I like about the study, something I didn’t discuss, is the way Oyeyemi speaks of worry after the fact. The way, for example, Arturo asks Boy:

[I]f I’d have married him if I’d seem him as coloured.

A kind of hindsight, the way the marriage has already happened so asking this question could just lead to an argument if she’d said ‘no’, but also the worry Arturo obviously had but didn’t talk about before, showing that he at least – if not his family – does actually ‘feel’ his race more than he might say. He’s bothered enough by it although he’s been successful ‘passing’ as a white man. Perhaps it’s the very not-acknowledging that causes his worry, keeping up appearances for his family.

But it also speaks of another issue – regardless of the passing, does colour still matter – in other words, in general terms rather than specific to Boy, does it matter that Arturo is coloured? What should colour mean – should it make a difference? Oyeyemi’s point is that it should be acknowledged, that passing is no way to live, but that colour is literally skin deep.

I liked this:

“Nice try, but I’m not going to stand here while a coloured woman tries to tell me that maybe I’m the one who’s coloured.”

The context is Boy’s seemingly not-bothered thoughts on race but we can delve into it and see something else – pointing out, in this regard, that Boy’s the ‘other’ here, that in terms of minorities and difference, Boy’s the anomaly. There’s also the factor that everyone’s skin is coloured in some way , that is to say again, skin deep, that a person’s skin should have no baring on their treatment.

This comes later in the book, from Bird I believe, but it follows on:

I’m slowly coming around to the view that you can’t feel nauseated by the Whitmans and the Millers without feeling nauseated by the kind of world that’s rewarded them for adapting to it like this.

Quite a sentence. It’s good for them, living-wise, that they can pass, but bad that they should have to. You can peel back the layers and see that whilst the relatives may not want to say a word about their colour, their race, they’ve conditioned themselves to it. They’ll not speak of that either – maybe they don’t even realise it’s a bit like the hierarchy of the ‘house negros’ and field workers of yore that Oyeyemi mentions, that they’re rewarded whilst being patronised and pushed back from society – but in this one sentence Oyeyemi exposes everything.


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