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[172] Traitor to the Race – Darieck Scott

traitor“You are a white male. White maleness is the standard. You define what is. What is right is what you are. What is desired is what you want. What is wrong is everything you are not or what prevents you from being and enforcing the standard.” [29]

In this relatively compact novel, Darieck Scott, now a Professor of African American Studies at Berkeley, in crisp and spare prose, delivers a powerful story that explores homophobia, assimilation, and self-hatred in the African American community through the struggle of an interracial couple whose private life is a bane to their publicity. In the middle of this struggle is Kenneth Gabriel, an unemployed actor who is estranged from his Aframerican root. That he has a white, all-American looking, musclehead lover, everything that epitomizes the standard, makes him feel guilty, shameful and embarrassed. In Central Park he muses, creating dramatic tales of spawned from repressed desire and life histories of the people he watches. On city streets, amidst the hustle and bustle, he and his soap opera star boyfriend, Evan Marcialis, acts out such intricately choreographed scenes that induce roving eyes of onlookers. They are an unlikely pair, an odd people.

It’s not difficult to see Kenneth’s imaginations run so wild that they are more than fantasies or enterprises to kill time. They are escape mechanisms that help compensate for his isolation from family and community. These fertile scenes alternate with the reality of the couple’s domestic life. When his distant cousin and boyhood friend Hammett Wade was murdered in a gang rape, Kenneth is forced to confront about his being a traitor to his race. He is confronted about a segment of his past of which he is ashamed and which he banishes to the depth of his soul. Hammett’s tragic end awakens in the him that is completely removed and unemotional. As he reconstructs Hammett’s life, his montaged impressions and memories of his cousin have forayed into the many selves he has created for strangers and most astoundingly, selves he has escaped, because these selves are connected and undone by Hammett’s death, but unbeknownst to Kenneth himself.

“…shamed family selves, ignorantly happy childhood selves, selves that fear love and fear sex and crave both with an unheeding rapaciousness. Selves that climb trees and hide when my brothers scour the neighborhood recruiting for a pickup basketball game, that lip-synch Diana Ross in the mirror before Dad gets home…” [183]

The juxtaposition of selves (identities) root in his being blind to his problem. No doubt whiteness, male whiteness in particular, sets the social norms, even though it’s nothing but a reflection of privilege and exists for no other reason than to defend it, but it’s obvious from the beginning that Kenneth’s struggle for the most part is not about this social position, which is extrinsic, but his rift with the Aframerican male folk and its stereotype. He doesn’t want to assimilate to whiteness, nor does he know the way to reconcile his uneasy relationship with African American men. He is caught in the worst between two worlds, or more appropriately, crossing the boundaries between these worlds in sex, race and power.

The novel formats like a play, with scenes in tandem between fantasies and reality, exploring the conflict between what role one ought to take in life and what one chooses to—all dictated by stereotype. The manner with which Darieck Scott fuses imaginary dramatic tales with reality struggle affords and understanding of Kenneth whom otherwise one cannot comprehend in reality. The writing is reminiscent of Toni Morrison but the voice adopted here is more edgy and upfront. The sarcastic tone is very much in sync to a species that belongs to a doubled minority–ethnically and sexually–that often prefers to be invisible. [Read/Skim/Toss]

10 Responses

  1. Sounds fascinating. Thanks for the review. I read a book this year, Symptomatic, that dealt with very similar themes. Interesting stuff.

  2. Reading this review took me back to the work of Steven Corbin, a Black writer who died of AIDS in the early 1990s. The basic theme is almost exactly the same. Which leads to the question of whether anything has changed in twenty years? Homophobia in the Black Community has been much in the news lately. Being Black and gay or Lesbian remains a challenge. I’ve recently read that Black Pastors, realizing the growth of AIDS in the community, have started to try to gain acceptance and help. It’s still a small group meeting with much resistance, but if small it is the only positive movement occuring.

  3. I like the way how you describe being doubly minor, being completely off the mainstream standard. The book sounds very provocative in exploring the role expected of black and white gay men. I have a feeling that the white lover must have felt some pressure dating a black man. I’ll check this book out, Matt. Thanks for another stellar review!

  4. Although this novel was published in 1996, the themes you mention are still relevant. I first read this novel right after publication and I was instantly hooked on the story by the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1. Upon finishing the novel, I just started reading from the beginning again. I so enjoyed Mr. Scott’s writing style, that I did not want to miss anything from my first read. 10 years later I read the novel for the third time in anticipation of Mr. Scott’s second novel, Hex, which was published in late 2006. I was impressed again with “Traitor to the Race”. I hope he re-visits Kenneth sometime in a future novel–as I am still intrigued with this character. Excellent review, Matthew. I especially liked your description of the novel’s unique format.

  5. CB James:
    You have to read this book all at once, without any distraction.

  6. mw grady:

    “Homophobia in the Black Community has been much in the news lately.”

    I cannot agree with you more. In California, blacks and latinos overwhelmingly voted for Proposition 8. What one cannot deny is that the growth of HIV infection rate bespeaks that community leaders should put behind the homophobia and focus on the issue.

  7. John:
    Thanks John. I’m sure white men might also feel the pressure in dating across the racial boundaries. I also have noticed that Asian men seem to be “afraid” of dating inter-racially, simply because Asian men are not rooted in the racial conflict in America. But we have to deal with a different type of conflict, and that is assimilation.

  8. Rick:
    Thanks for introducing this author, who truly serves as my looking glass into interracial dating issue and the culture of minority gay men. I especially enjoy the format of the book, which alternates between reality and fantasies. Sometimes fantasies are the way to understand reality, and Scott has elegantly stitches the two together, formulating an understanding of the main character, Kenneth, who is unforgettable to me.

  9. By John R. Weyrich “JRWSF” (San Francisco, Ca) – See all my reviews
    I totally disagree with M. Williams on his take of “Traitor to the Race”. Perhaps the format of the novel was disconcerting to him. It is fashioned much like a play, with scenes interspersed between the narrative. If one is looking for a typical format of a novel, this story is not it. I was hooked on this story by the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1. Once I finished this book, I returned immediately to the beginning and started my second read. I loved Mr. Scott’s writing style, and I did not want to miss a word. I re-read this novel for the third time 10 years after my first and second reads. I was still intrigued by the character of Kenneth, and I wanted to re-connect with the writer’s style in anticipation of the publication of his second novel, “HEX”. The third read re-confirmed my original enjoyment of the story. I hope the author re-visits Kenneth in a future novel.

  10. […] Cross-Genre Fiction Traitor to the Race Scott […]

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