- Purchase/rental options available:
Paul Beatty's zany postmodern satire and opus of comic rage, The White Boy Shuffle (1996) is a jarring departure from the rhetoric of traditional African American literature. Gunnar Kaufman's evolution from "cool black guy" of Santa Monica to basketball superstar of Hillside to eventual savior of the race serves as a scathing critique of our preconceived notions of what it means to be "black" in contemporary America. While much criticism focuses on the novel's assessment of black masculinity from a sexual standpoint, concentrating on Gunnar's relationship with his wife, Yoshiko, and his general gawkiness towards women, not much analysis is dedicated to Gunnar's apparent need to conform to the mores of the denizens of Hillside upon his sudden move there. I posit that The White Boy Shuffle is not merely a critique of the near-fanatical heterosexuality that pervades black male communities but also a poignant indictment of the necessity to adhere to the rigid standards and rules of black American boyhood in order to garner any sociopolitical status whatsoever. Although cultural conformity can certainly serve a purpose (especially to a "cultural mulatto" like Gunnar), it would be imprudent not to acknowledge and interrogate its dehumanizing and de-individualizing attributes. By paralleling Gunnar's coming-of-age with that of Nicholas Scoby, his macabre counterpoint, Beatty seems to be begging the question, "Would Gunnar still be the savior of his race if he couldn't dunk?"