A Conversation About Race

In Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ story “A Conversation About Bread”, two African-American anthropology graduate students Brian and Eldwin discuss the racial implications of an assignment where Eldwin reports on Brian’s childhood story of another school boy, Junior, bringing different types of bread for other black children to try at school. The school children are amazed by the flavors of these new delights such as potato bread and croissants. Brian has an issue with discussing the perspective of the kids as “we”–generalizing all black southern children as a stereotype. He asks, “Why do you want to tell the story anyway?” What purpose does it serve unless it’s to show yourself as somehow better than them?”

Brian clearly feels like the writing casts the children and specifically black children as a novelty. As he references the kids as being portrayed as “an elephant”, an exhibit– look at these odd children who’ve never experienced potato bread or croissants before. Eldwin (who is also black) doesn’t see it that way.

Maybe Brian is what Nabakov would consider a bad reader in that he is seeing himself in the story and using his and his mother’s experiences to interpret the writing? Is Brian being over-sensitive about race? Clearly Brian and Eldwin, although both black, don’t see things the same way. Is it possible to tell this story without a racial bias? If not, is it still okay to tell the story? Who gets to decide especially if the writer is someone of that race? Is it bad to peek at another culture through a story even if it does lead to stereotypes?

This ties in to a lot of the current discussions of implicit bias and whether it’s okay for someone to write from another culture’s perspective. I don’t know the answer but I think it’s important that we continue to have the discussion.

One thought on “A Conversation About Race

  1. Cimya L.

    I liked what you said when you said “Maybe Brian is what Nabakov would consider a bad reader in that he is seeing himself in the story and using his and his mother’s experiences to interpret the writing?” I understand where you are coming from and I agree.

    Like

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