Danzy Senna's Caucasia Essay

Danzy Senna's Caucasia Essay

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Danzy Senna's Caucasia


In Caucasia, by Danzy Senna, Birdie spends time in several different racial contexts and, in each one, adjusts the racial definition of herself. Through this process, she discovers much about the conception of race in contemporary American society and achieves the nuanced understanding that race, while merely a construction, is still (operationally) real. This is contrasted by the more dangerous, oversimplified understanding of race – that races are biological rivals, inherently different and unable to coexist without some sort of power structure – embodied by the character of Redbone, who is also a symbol of inauthenticity. This latter aspect of Redbone shows the emptiness inherent in the views he holds about race, an important reason for his inclusion in the novel.

Redbone, which, interestingly enough, according to urbandictionary.com literally means a light-skinned black person with kinky red hair, is an incredibly outspoken advocate of the “revolution” (the movement intended to allow Blacks to overthrow Whites in the American power-structure) and the need to use violence to bring it about. In the scene where Redbone shows Birdie the guns, he says, “This little girl ain’t no security risk, brotha. We gotta raise our children to know how to fight” (Senna 15). He also tells Deck that maybe he needs to “get [his] head out of them books and put some action behind them high-falutin’ theories of [his]” (16). This manifestation of black vs. white politics as unabashed advocating of violence and this mockery and belittling of intellectualism as “high-falutin’” in favor of insufficiently thought-out action shows just how facile and oversimplified Redbone’s views of race are. They are of the “good” vs. the ...


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...cted” but that “that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist” that Birdie and her sister express toward the end of the novel upon their reunification (408). Through embodying both falseness and such a self-serving and facile view of race, Redbone serves as Senna’s symbol that they go hand in hand, that is, that such conceptions are empty and inauthentic – not true to the way the world actually works. As we begin to doubt who Redbone is, we doubt what he says. Taking this a step further, the sense of inauthenticity associated with him points out the aspect of lying to oneself that is necessary for maintaining these self-serving definitions of race. As Redbone pretends to be something he’s not and the flasher denigrates others for an inauthentic sense of power, the racist lies to himself about how the world really is to maintain his image of himself, and his race, on top of it.

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