We Cast a Shadow

The racist world created in Maurice Carlos Ruffin's provocative near-future novel We Cast a Shadow is disturbing but not far-fetched.

The novel is narrated by an unnamed black father who lives in an unnamed city in the American South. Though in the recent past race relations appeared to be improving, things have deteriorated quickly between the city's poor black inhabitants and its more affluent white majority. The father is a lawyer who is married to an activist white woman named Penny. They have a young biracial son named Nigel.

The racism here operates on many levels. The little things add up. The narrator is mistaken for waitstaff, even a mugger. His coworkers of color are obsessed with whiteness, getting plastic surgery to change their noses and lighten their skin. The narrator is added to his law firm's diversity committee after beating out other black candidates in an outlandishly racist competition. The more speculative yet still realistic aspects of the book include a dreadlock ordinance that allows police to cut off the dreads of African-Americans, intrusive police patrols wherever black people have moved into the white suburbs and even deportation of some black people.

Ruffin skewers institutional racism with style and wit. But he also reveals the insidious nature of racism and the complex psychology of the marginalized: the narrator is so obsessed with whiteness that he begins expensive skin treatments for his own son. We Cast a Shadow boldly explores race in America, and Ruffin tackles his subject matter with lively prose and an entertaining plot. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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