Monday, January 16, 2017

Feeling Bad about Laughing

At the heart of Paul Beatty's hilarious novel lies a simple thought experiment: Could you prove that racism in the United States is still alive and well by bringing back segregation?

 After the election of the first black president there was a suggestion that we had evolved into a post-racial world. A belief that all of the seeds planted by the civil rights movement had borne righteous fruit and very soon the colour of your skin and the country of your origin would be irrelevant in this great democracy of ours.

Then we woke up on the morning of November 9th, turned on the news and discovered that we were just a tad too optimistic about the state of the world.  The idea slowly dawned on us that maybe racism isn't just the hallmark of the intellectually inferior mind. Maybe it is something we are all guilty of. The elephant in the room of our collective conscious as we drive through the bad part of town.

The bad part of town in this case is an agrarian suburb of Los Angeles called Dickens, where our nameless narrator is home schooled on a diet of unconventional psychology served up by his father. Dickens itself stands in as an effective metaphor for our ill-conceived ideas of a post-racial world. When our hero makes it ground zero for the reintroduction of segregated schools, buses and drinking fountains it is not outrage that greets him, but a sense of civic pride, a sense of order and a relief from the pressure of pretending that intolerance is a thing of the past.

My feelings for this book are tangled up with my feelings about the upcoming Donald Trump presidency. I laugh because on some level it is very funny and absurd. Then I think about the very real consequences and I feel bad for laughing.

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