Shuffling Through with Paul Beatty


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

bookcoverSo, I finally finished The White Boy Shuffle and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it. Half the time while reading this book I was wondering, “What’s the point?” I could tell from descriptions of the book and while reading the book that it was a satire. I admit that I did laugh a few times, but I was still confused. It took me until I was two thirds done with the book that I realized the purpose of this book.

The main character, Gunnar Kaufman, was dealing with accepting and embracing his blackness. In the beginning of the book, Gunnar lived in Santa Monica, which was a predominately white neighborhood and in classrooms he was always the only black kid. Then, he, his mother and his two sisters ended up moving to West Los Angeles, which was mostly made up of black & Latino people.  He was considered an outcast and often got bullied because he talked “proper,” listened to rock music & dressed differently than the other kids.

It wasn’t until Gunnar met Nick Scoby in a class that he got friends in his new neighborhood. Then Gunnar’s popularity skyrocketed when it was discovered that he was good at basketball. He was also very smart & a great poet. All of these things made Gunnar very popular, but Gunnar had a complex with his newfound fame throughout the book. At times, he embraced it & other times he rejected it.

The book is chock full of stereotypes about the different races and how others feel about them. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading a more sophisticated version of Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. As the book went on, readers got to see Gunnar embrace his blackness and call out people who he felt didn’t genuinely like him for who he was, but for his talents on the basketball court & with poetry.

At times, I was caught off guard with what the characters were saying & at times I didn’t understand it. In the end, I still found two quotes that stood out to me. One was when Gunnar said:

The only time it’s permissible to cry is when you miss the lottery by one number or someone close to you passes away. Then you can cry once, but only once. There is no brooding, n***ers got to get up and go to work tomorrow.

This quote stood to me because I found it to be true. It’s like black people are constantly being policed, even on our emotions. We can’t express outrage or even be upset about something not going our way without being labeled as thugs for our behavior.

The second quote was when Gunnar stated:

The people of Hillside treat society the way society treats them. Strangers and friends are suspect and guilty until proven innocent.

This quote stood out to me because I’ve been in the situation that the people of Hillside were in, which is that people are passing judgement on them without getting to know them just because of where they’re from. I’ve gotten awkward pauses or looks or sympathy when I’ve told people where I live because it’s been deemed a “dangerous neighborhood.” Just because some bad things have occurred here doesn’t mean that every resident of that neighborhood is a bad person.

In the end, Paul Beatty wrote an interesting book about how to embrace your blackness and how you can be perceived by society just by being black in America. The White Boy Shuffle is cousins with the novel Oreo (read an Eleventh Stack review here) so you can check that out or one of Beatty’s other novels if you’re interested. Happy reading!


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