Set in a near future America, We Cast a Shadow explores what happens when a country accepts institutionalised racism, when even the black people accept it. The unnamed narrator thinks the worst thing his son can be is black, that he will succeed if only he can banish Nigel’s birthmark for good. Nigel is mixed race, born with a dark birthmark on his face which is slowly getting bigger.
The narrator is working as a junior associate in a law firm, hoping to get promoted so he can afford to get the new demelanization technique for his son; a treatment which will make him white. Poor Nigel, he just wants to be a normal boy but his father pushes his self-hatred onto him. The scenes where he is forced to endure skin whitening cream are hard to stomach.
The world is a centrifuge that patiently waits to separate my Nigel from his basic human dignity. I don’t have to tell you this is an unjust planet. A dark-skinned child can expect a life of diminished light. This is truth anywhere in the world and throughout most of history.
In this future, black people are allowed to do low paid jobs; working in restaurants, as cleaners or maintenance. The narrator allows himself to be humiliated at work, in the hope it will please his white bosses. They only give him a chance because they want to win a client by showing how good they are at diversity. He’s working at a law firm because they have quotas, not because they see him as an equal.
This is political satire, but not of the amusing kind. There’s not much in this that isn’t happening, or hasn’t happened, somewhere in the world, from the ghettoisation of black neighbourhoods to humiliation in the workplace and privatisation of prisons. Even the demelanization, which seems the most far-fetched, is reminiscent of the cosmetic surgery Michael Jackson became addicted to. In the current American climate, this is a very timely novel, highlighting the casual prejudice people are capable of and how is escalates.
Whilst the narrator isn’t very likeable, it’s easy to see how he formed this mindset, how the world might be against him but he chose to capitulate rather than stand up for what’s right. He wanted the best for his son, but he didn’t think to ask his son what he wanted.
POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 25. A debut novel
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Book Source: Borrowed from library
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