If you loved Jordan Peele’s Get Out, then you will love Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow. We Cast a Shadow is post-racial literary fiction. The narrator never shares his name, but you later determine that Ruffin keeps the main character nameless because he truly believes the dejected perception that he is invisible due to his black skin.
The main character is married to “Penny,” a White female who believes in the goodness of the world but acknowledges the existence of inequality. Prior to marrying the main character, she prided herself on attending protests and educating herself on different social causes. She is “woke,” as some would say. After getting married, they have “Nigel,” a charismatic boy that loves both of his parents and has undeniable cooking skills at such a young age. But the protagonist believes that there is something genuinely wrong with his son, Nigel. Nigel has a large birthmark on his face, that spreads to other parts of his fair-skinned body. But it’s not just the birthmark that drives the main character. He believes that Nigel’s Blackness, although more fair skinned than the protagonist, is a detestation that must be removed.
Whenever Nigel leaves the house, the protagonist demands that Nigel cover his head with a baseball cap. According to the main character, the hat not only protects Nigel from UV rays, as the sun can darken people with melanin, but he also does not want strangers to see the dark birthmark on Nigel’s face. He forces Nigel to put a lightening cream on his birthmark every day, hoping that the lotion will eventually dissipate what he thinks is a disgusting deformity that will prevent Nigel from having a full life free from racism and discrimination.
There were so many real life issues that the author addressed — issues that Black parents and children face every day — but presented them with such an extreme imagination that only a literary author could do. For instance, the author addresses childhood bullying, a social phenom that Black children often face when they attend predominately White schools. Although Penny explained that they could send Nigel to a more diverse school, where no one would tease the boy for his brown birthmark, the main character insists that “appearances always matter,” and faultily believed that Nigel should not only be surrounded by as many White children as possible, but also free his body of all traces of melanin.
Then, the protagonist discovers a dermatologist with a new procedure that changes minority persons of color to white. No matter the cost, the main character maintains that Nigel must have the procedure done because removing any traces of his own Blackness within Nigel is protecting him from AmeriKKKa. The main character never acknowledges that the extraction of melanin within Nigel is somewhat a removal of himself within his son, thereby only acknowledging the physical traits of his Caucasian mother. He does’t realize the preposterous and absurdness of his goals for Nigel because he is self-absorbed by the hate he has for his own skin.
Throughout the novel, Ruffin also shares ideals of colorism — the prejudice towards others with dark skin tone within the same ethnic or racial group — where the main character illustrates a disdain towards other Black Americans within his community, characterizing them as inferior despite institutionalized racial discrimination and social misgivings. He demonstrates a long-held debate within the Black community — the refusal to identify as an African American (as opposed to a Black American) due to generations removed from the continent and only feeling conjoined the the Western World.
But would this really even be a complete novel without the obligatory debate within the interracial relationship between the protagonist and Penny regarding racism in America? When the main character defends rubbing the burning cream on his son and planning the “demelanization” procedure, Nigel emphasizes the importance of the imperative “talk” between Black parents and Black children on how to conduct themselves in at all times, particularly in the presence of law enforcement officers. Penny insists that the narrator is paranoid and his revulsion towards he and his son’s blackness is anomalistic. But the main character is unnerved and relentless. When Nigel eventually runs away, the protagonist subsequently has te “demelanization” procedure performed on himself instead and insists that his new identity as a White male has freed him from the horrors of being Black in America only to realize that as a White man he feels invisible once again.
I thought this book was amazing. The first few chapters were slightly slow but quickly picked up. I couldn’t put the book down. I was so appalled and intrigued by the main character and the demons he attempted to project on his own flesh and blood. There were some parts in the book where Ruffin took real laws (e.g., “"Why the Supreme Court Will Not Be Hearing the Case About a Woman Denied a Job Because of Her Locs”) and presented the protagonist’s America as a dystopia for Black people, as if certain current laws and policies in real life couldn’t be any more systematically oppressive than they already are. I greatly enjoyed this novel and seeing how a creative writer could take real life issues and legal policies turn them into extreme nightmares.
If you’ve already read We Cast a Shadow, what did you think? What do you think of thought provoking satires? Feel free to leave your comments below.