Basic premise: In All American Boys, Rashad, a black teenager, is suspected of stealing from a corner convenience store and assaulting a woman inside. A white police officer arrests Rashad, throwing him to the pavement and proceeding to beat him so badly that he spends multiple days in the hospital. Another boy, Quinn, witnesses the event. He also recognizes the police officer (he’s the brother of one of Quinn’s friends). Told from the perspectives of both Rashad and Quinn, readers get an inside look at both what it could be like to suffer at the hands of law enforcement and at what it’s like to struggle with and against learned prejudices.
One of my wife’s students suggested I read All American Boys. Good recommendation, and I definitely feel some kind of way about it. In the video below, I talk about some of the following issues from the novel:
- Race (obviously, and briefly)
- Learned prejudice (and the challenges of disrupting those prejudices)
- Loyalty vs humanity
- The over-escalation of incidents by the police
- Respectability politics
- Potential implications
I ended up talking more than I thought I was going to about respectability politics, my reaction to the book and learned prejudice, so I wanted to take a second and talk about Quinn and loyalty. The cop (Paul) who unnecessarily beat Rashad was like a father figure for Quinn (Quinn’s father died in Afghanistan [I think]), so it makes sense that Quinn doesn’t want to deal with the things he saw because that would mean he has negative thoughts toward Paul’s actions. Quinn is pressured to be loyal to Paul and to Paul’s family. That he struggles with this loyalty and with the lack of humanity in Paul’s actions causes dissonance between Quinn and the majority of the people in his life.
I think (and this may be my bias speaking here) more people need to struggle like Quinn does. But this struggle means that black and brown people have to be viewed as people and not objects of fear. Because when black and brown folk become people in the eyes of the fearful, there’s potential for the realization that black and brown people aren’t to be feared any more than any other people. And for the realization that the actions of law enforcement are inhumane and wildly unnecessary.
I would love to have and hear of conversations had about this book with young people. Especially conversations about humanity.