‘What’s Your Problem?’ by Robert Boles

What’s Your Problem? by Robert Boles, 1964

The magic trick:

Taking a situation that shouldn’t involve race and showing how race, in fact, plays a huge part 

Boles takes a situation that shouldn’t involve race and drapes it with racial under- and overtones.

In essence, a father is struggling to connect with his son, and, when the boy does something truly troubling, the father asks the assistance of a neighbor who the boy admires.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, when said father and son are white and said neighbor is a black man who is new to an only-recently-integrated community, the situation takes on new complications and concerns. Race plays a huge part in everything. This story shows that. And that’s quite a trick on Boles’s part.

The selection:

“What’s your problem?” I asked him. I asked him straight out, as if I had known him for a good length of time.

He took a pillow from behind him and placed it at the other end of the couch and leaned back. His hands were on his thighs. I noticed how he lined his index fingers with the creases in his trousers. He looked at the floor. “Our son, Timothy,” he said. “He’s done something.” He began to gesture with his hands. “I can’t seem to talk to him. When I try, I don’t get anywhere. And I was wondering if you could talk to him for us.” He looked up at me.

I was standing with my forearm on the radiator – because it was cool. “I don’t understand,” I said.

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