This Black Guy

I’ve been told, “It’s a visual reference.  That’s why people say this black guy.”  I answer, “Then why don’t we ever say this white guy?”  Pause for reflection.  These broad sweeping descriptors have irritated me all my life.  Well, maybe not all my life but certainly the whole of my adult life (when I realized that terms like Black and White often mean exactly nothing).  If someone describes me as white I have no idea what that means.  Likewise when I hear someone described as black I wonder exactly what picture the speaker is attempting to paint.  One might describe me as “mother” though the term is still impossibly broad.  What kind of mother?  A work-out mom?  An NPR mom?  A sling-wearing, fuzzy-armpit mom?  A guitar-playing, chocolate-craving mom?  Perhaps my father being a police detective has more than a little to do with it.  I grew up knowing that witnesses while crucial to any trial are notoriously unreliable.  Five witnesses produce five different accounts.  As a child I made mental notes of everything around me.  I learned to observe that the clerk, 5’10” brown hair, fair skin, younger than my dad, was wearing a red shirt with a black baseball cap.  He had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.                 

This excerpt from a book I’m reading by Tom Perrotta struck me as odd:

“I just ran into him,” Larry explained.  “Outside the library.”

“I hope he’s not as good as you said,” said a lanky guy with an orthopedic brace on one knee.

“He played in college,” said Larry.  “How bad could he be?” 

Todd didn’t think this was the right time to explain that he hadn’t been a starter and that it was a very small college.  He already felt like enough of a civilian in his cargo shorts and polo shirt. 

“I’m a little behind the curve here,” he said.  “Who are you guys?”

“We’re the Guardians,” said the drill sergeant.

“We’re cops,” said the black guy.

   

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One response to “This Black Guy

  1. i am very happy for you! you found the perfect excerpt to prove your point! and well done too – the use of “the black guy” in this book was placed merely to agitate and awaken you. why else? i cant think of a more unimaginative adjective for the author to have used – unless the point was actually to put us to sleep. consider “the black man” an unimportant character? perhaps that’s it – having not read the book, i’ll throw the author that one. i’m sure there’s a purpose that an editor somewhere knows.

    now, that said, i must ask for the sake of the visually-inclined, or ethinically oriented, or the efficiency-minded?: how DO you describe a person then? certainly it cant be, “this person i know” – that’s far too bland for you. and in the mind of the detective, skin color must certainly be a key point to give the illustrator when drawing up the suspect.

    have you ever read maniac magee? i think you would enjoy the soliloquy on “black”.

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