Black People and Birdie

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Hanna Fitzgerald

One Size Fits All

In her novel Caucasia, Danzy Senna paints the image of a young bi-racial girl, Birdie, growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Her mother is a white, blueblood Bostonian woman turned political activist, and her father is a black Boston University professor with radical ideas about race. Birdie and her older sister Cole are both bi-racial children, but Cole looks more black and Birdie looks more white. The two sisters are separated early in the novel and then the rest of the story focuses on Birdie and how she needs to “pass” as white. Passing is the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of social groups other than his or her own, such as a different race, ethnicity, social class, or gender, generally with the purpose of gaining social acceptance. Birdie’s existence is the ultimate experiment on how to pass. She is first asked to pass as black at Nkrumah, even though she doesn’t fit the profile of a black child. Then she is taken to New Hampshire and asked to be the opposite of what she’d been before- a white Jewish girl. Senna introduces Birdie to all different versions of the races she is torn between, and none of them seem to fit quite right. Through Birdie, Senna is making the point we see that there is no one size fits all version of any race.

Birdie is exposed to many different ideas of what it means to be black while she’s younger, even though the general idea of the time was very specific. All of the adults around her are busy preaching this idea of The Black Person, but they are showing her all different versions of what that really means. The first impression she gets of a black person is her father who “in the past year had discovered Black Pride and...was trying to purge himself of his ‘honkified past’”(10). Deck is an intellectual; he studied at Harvard and is a professor at Boston University. However by the time his daughters are old enough to really start understanding things, he has...
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