Georgetown Nights by Nancy Hale, 1942
The magic trick:
A white woman telling a story of racism that doesn’t seem to trivialize or patronize
Many white writers simply don’t deal with race at all in their works. So when one does – as Nancy Hale does here in “Georgetown Nights” – there is almost an instinct to award bonus points for even trying.
Unfortunately, these attempts often fall short of contributing any meaningful perspective on the topic, veering into didacticism, condescension, or worse.
I’d argue Hale avoids many of those traps here.
“Georgetown Nights” tells the story of a young white woman who has moved to Washington, DC, with her husband – rich, naïve, and intrigued by the diverse city life around here. Crucially, the story does not overstep itself in imagining its black characters’ lives. We don’t deify or infantilize them. Instead, the story truly reckons with the white woman’s views on race and how they develop during these early days living in the city. It’s honest in its racism – if that makes sense. It doesn’t patronize us by trying to find a false moral.
And that’s quite a trick on Hale’s part.
“But darling! That man was just as nice as he could be. We made friends. He was explaining to me all about marketing and – ”
“You don’t understand. I know what I’m talking about. You’ve got to be careful. You can’t go around making friends with strange colored men. If it was even down home, it would be some different. But this is Washington.”
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