Breaking And Entering by Sherman Alexie, 2009
The magic trick:
Turning the table on his previous literary experiences with racism
I’ve been reading a lot of Sherman Alexie lately. You may have noticed his stories gracing this blog the last four days. So I feel like I can speak with some degree of certainty when I say a lot of his work deals in racism – specifically the identity-crisis anger, shame and hatred associated with growing up on an Indian reservation in 20th-century America. Alexie’s Native American characters often are the victims of modern racism from modern whites (and we’re not even addressing the centuries of atrocities that established the setting). So it’s very interesting to see the Spokane Indian protagonist of “Breaking And Entering” treating others with his own set of negative racial stereotypes.
In “B&E” the protagonist admits to feeling a sense of fear when he sees a group of young black men inside a convenient store. Now, we should note that the extreme nature of this story’s plot developments are partially responsible for these feelings, but still, it’s interesting to see Alexie writing about prejudice from the standpoint of giver instead of receiver. It recalls Tuesday’s feature story at SSMT, “The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fist Fight In Heaven,” when Alexie’s protagonist mocks the white cashier in a convenient store, scaring him with his own prejudices.
I’m not sure “Breaking And Entering” is wholly successful as a story. The aforementioned extreme plot development feels underexplored emotionally and instead overexploited as a means for outlining the racial theorizing. It’s easy to forgive such problems, though, when the racial theorizing is so thought-provoking. And that’s quite a trick on Alexie’s part.
One block later, I had to hit my brakes when those same black guys jaywalked across the street in front of me. All of them stared me down and walked as slowly as possible through the crosswalk. I’d lived in this neighborhood for years and I’d often had this same encounter with young black men. It was some remnant of the warrior culture, I suppose.
When it had happened before, I had always made it a point to smile goofily and wave to the black men who were challenging me. Since they thought I was a dorky white guy, I’d behave like one. I’d be what they wanted me to be.