The short story “A Conversation About Bread” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires should have been titled “A Conversation About Race.”
Anthropology, at its core, is the study of humans, so it was only natural for both Brian and Eldwin to take notice of the white lady sitting near them. After rereading the story, both characters seem to be very interested in the lady (far more than bread).
But what is the purpose of the white lady’s presence in the story?
She’s obviously having an effect on the action of the story, so WHO IS SHE?
This is by far my favorite explanation: Brian is in a litigation over his ex-girlfriend stalking habits. After Brian first looks over at the white lady she immediately “responded to Brian’s attention by slumping farther into her book” (176). If the white lady was actually working, then she probably wouldn’t have even noticed Brian’s gaze. But a stalker would….I don’t think that it is beyond the realm of reality for the white lady in the story to be Kim.
2. Now the theory that the white lady is Brian’s Mother’s ex- roommate may warp time and space……or does it? Perhaps, the white lady is an older white lady. Perhaps, Brian’s mother went to school later. I found it eerie as to why Eldwin asked ” was the roommate blonde?” (179), until I reread the story and realized the only physical description of the white lady is that she has blond hair. Eldwin’s question makes the “white woman across from them look amused” (179). Eldwin goes on and takes notes while Brian is lecturing him, maybe Eldwin is trying to piece the situation together just like we are now.
3. The woman takes out “a little notebook with a pink cat on the cover” (181). Now why is she taking notes on their conversation? Is it since she really is “an anthropologist, too” (183). I just find it so strange for someone to take notes on someone else’s conversation. Even looking at the situation from a non-biased point of view, I still tend to find the details mentioned by the author to be so random. What is the purpose of knowing the “pink cat” on the cover of her notebook?
Just “a Kim”
The notion of “being a Kim” makes Eldwin contextualize why Brian has such a problem with his writing. In Eldwin’s writing, he is writing the story in a way that is confining the characters to the stereotypes society has for them. He is writing like a “white anthropologist” (174). But how is he “being a Kim?” As we hear more and more about Kim, we, as the reader, start to make assumptions about her. Eldwin refers to her as “crazy Kim” (180), shortly after Brian connects Eldwin to Kim. The same assumptions that Eldwin is drawing about Kim, are ones that white people would draw from the story that Eldwin is writing. The author makes the white lady document the students’ conversation to parallel the white roommate took pictures of Brian’s mom to elaborate on the point she is trying to make.
In the end the author decided to never uncover the identity of the white lady since it served no purpose to the message she was professing. Through “A Conversation About Bread,” Nafissa Thompson-Spires challenges her white readers to not become anthropologists when they are confronted by something or someone different to them.