Thursday, March 11, 2010

Genetics and Iola Leroy

Faces of America is a show on PBS that demonstrates the new advances in genetic testing. A person’s heritage can be traced by using just a sample of their saliva. The show raises some interesting questions, some of which we have been discussing in our classes. Some of these are what makes a person’s culture? Is it where he/she is raised or how he/she is raised. One example was with Eva Longoria, a famous Latina actress who is very proud of her heritage. Before being shown her genetic makeup she was very confident that her “pie chart” would show her being seventy percent Mexican, twenty percent White, and Ten percent “other”. Her results revealed that she was indeed seventy percent white. This shocked her and when asked what she thought about the results she said that it sort of changes how she feels about her Mexican heritage. Even after being raised thinking she was a certain race, and identifying her whole life as one “type” of person she questioned her identity.
This reminded me of the “one drop” mentality in Iola Leroy. Although the racial discrimination has been removed from the majority of our society it still matters what group you identify with. Iola, like Miss Longoria, even after being raised to think, act, and identify with a group of people, in an instant of revelation questions identity. I am certain that if genetic testing existed during the days of the civil war it would have been used to marginalize people even more.
One interesting fact on people’s mentality is changed for the better is with those who did not discover any “ethnic” heritage. In Steven Colbert’s “pie chart” he was shown that he was one hundred percent “white man” and he was disappointed. He was hoping for some form of ethnic descent. This would not have been the case in the days of Iola Leroy, I am glad that time and equality has changed this fact.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Twain and Beatty

If I was to choose a modern book to represent the tone and sarcasm of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson it would be Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle. I equate Beatty’s character of Gunner to Twain’s character of Chambers with their relation of mistaken identity. Gunner is an African American boy who is raised in a white middle class community. All of his friends are white, his interests reflect those of a “white boy”, and he talks and walks like as if he is white. Chambers is in a similar, yet ironically opposite situation. He is a white boy raised as if he is African American; he talks like as if he is African American, treats others as if they are better than him, and relates to the African American community he is raised by.

Gunner’s mother sees that he thinks he is white and moves their family to the “ghetto” so he can learn who he is. Gunner experiences a lot of anxiety when faced with the “reality” of who he is and what he is expected to do as a “black man”. He is forced into sports stereotypically associated with African Americans, and little by little his “White Boy Shuffle” is conditioned out of him.

Contrasting that with Chambers, who after discovering he is not a slave is forced into the life of a white heir. There is not a lot of detail with how his life ends up, but Twain does make mention of the difficulties he faces with his new life, and how unhappy he is for the rest of his life.

The comparison between these two men is very similar, even though they are in opposite situations. The fragments of racism and stereotypes are exposed through the paradoxes and irony Twain and Beatty use in their novels.