The Sell-Out by Paul Beatty

The SelloutThe frame for this novel is that an African American man, our narrator, is brought before the US Supreme Court (Me vs the United States of America) for reinstituting slavery and segregation in a neighborhood of LA once known as the city of “Dickens,” but has since been wiped off the map to pave the route for rapid gentrification.

While that premise sounds outlandish; as ridiculous as it is offensive, the keen point that makes this satire bite is that the narrator’s efforts are launched to ameliorate the racial inequalities that persist or deepen in a supposedly “post-racial” America. 51 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, 58 years after the Little Rock Nine entered Little Rock Central High School, de facto segregation and inequality (be it in terms of police protection, income, housing, education, and political representation) are widespread. Yet the national narrative of racial progress, embodied most emphatically by those who see the election of Barack Obama as proof that white American’s and America have “come a long way,” is confidently asserted by both conservatives and liberals. It is this momentous set of contradictions that provide the fertile manure for Beatty’s fierce humor and trenchant commentary.

Beatty’s narrator is vexed, at one point in the novel, with how he can effectively segregate a “failing” middle school that is already 100% people of color. (His eventual solution is to erect a fence with first-rate mock-ups of a soon-to-come all-white charter school next door). This situation is emblematic of much of the book; quick sketches of supposedly post-racial or non-racial systems being exposed for their racial, and racist, components. Beatty’s novel makes a strong case against “white-washing” (lots of puns always intended in this book) histories of racism and racism’s role in everyday American life.

Availability:  USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Shane D. Hall
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2015

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