Essay on Whiteness in Danzy Senna’s Novel, Caucasia

Essay on Whiteness in Danzy Senna’s Novel, Caucasia

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Danzy Senna’s Caucasia is a third wave feminist text that shows the reader how identities are socially constructed. It is a heartfelt story about the conflicts of an interracial family in an extremely racialised America during the 1970s. This novel treads on the border between whiteness and blackness through the standpoint of Birdie Lee. Birdie is able to manipulate her identity and fit into different spaces as required by her mother, Sandy Lee. Throughout the novel, the reader is shown how race is socially constructed, and how essentially everyone “pretends” in their life in order to fit certain situations. This essay will discuss how Birdie’s ability to disappear as Jesse Goldman is a curse because constructions around race take her away from her family and essentially her true identity.
Throughout the novel, Birdie sought to fit into her environment and her family. Birdie’s struggle to fit in was due to her bi-racial background, a white mother and a black father. Her physical appearance resembled her mother, Sandy, rather than her father Deck. At a young age Birdie learned the importance of blending in and to conform to her surroundings. The Nkrumah School made Birdie realized what her skin colour represented, that she was white. This made her think she had to prove her blackness to everyone by changing herself. She would practise saying “nigga” rather than “nigger” in front of the mirror in order to do so (Senna, 1998). Changing herself shifted her identity; she was shutting out her whiteness in order to blend in. It was not until Birdie became Jesse Goldman, a white Jewish-American, when she started to disappear.
As Jesse Goldman, Birdie had to forget her identity and her family. Birdie disappeared as Jesse. Disappearing in...


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... Another time when Birdie could not pass was at the park with her father. Being questioned by the police to confirm that Deck was her father showed that she cannot pass a black. Lastly, her encounter with Carmen emphasized Birdie’s appearance. Carmen could not accept Birdie because she looked Caucasian, not black. Based on the social constructions of race, Birdie’s appearance made it difficult to pass as black.
Being a bi-racial Birdie is kept away from her sister and father because the construction of race found it wrong in the time period which this novel was written in. Through the experience of being Jesse, Birdie learned what privileges whiteness has to blackness. The privileges may have saved Sandy and Birdie but they caused her to leave her home and forget her true self. Her ability to disappear is a curse because she had to pretend to be someone she is not.

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