by Zadie Smith
White Teeth Race and Ethnicity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
"You said the Iqbals are comin' to dinner. I was just thinkin'... if they're going to want me to cook dem some curry—I mean, I can cook curry—but it's my type of curry."
"For God's sake, they're not those kind of Indians," said Archie irritably, offended at the suggestion. "Sam'll have a Sunday roast like the next man. He serves Indian food all the time, he doesn't want to eat it too." (3.57-58)
Archie also thinks that Clara is not "that kind of black." And, in fact, the Iqbals are not Indian of any kind. So what does Archie mean when he says this?
The woman took pity, swallowed her gum, and looked Irie up and down; she felt more sympathetic as she noted Irie's cocoa complexion, the light eyes.
"Pale, sir! Freckles an' every ting. You Mexican?"
"Half Jamaican. Half English."
"Half-caste," Jackie explained patiently. "Your mum white?"
Jackie wrinkled her nose. "Usually de udder way roun." (11.74-83)
Jackie tries to guess Irie's background and fails completely. We see here (and many other times in the novel) how unreadable racial and ethnic identity can be.
Alsana took out baltic-brain, number three of their twenty-four-volume-set Reader's Digest Encyclopedia, and read from the relevant section:
The vast majority of Bangladesh's inhabitants are Bengalis, who are largely descended from Indo-Aryans who began to migrate into the country from the west thousands of years ago and who mixed within Bengal with indigenous groups of various racial stocks. Ethnic minorities include the Chakma and Mogh, Mongoloid peoples who live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts District; the Santal, mainly descended from migrants from present-day India; and the Biharis, non-Bengali Muslims who migrated from India after the partition.
"Oi, mister! Indo-Aryans... it looks like I am Western after all! Maybe I should listen to Tina Turner, wear the itsy-bitsy leather skirts. Pah. It just goes to show," said Alsana, revealing her English tongue, "you go back and back and back and it's still easier to find the correct Hoover bag than to find one pure person, one pure faith, on the globe. Do you think anybody is English? Really English? It's a fairy tale!" (9.227-229)
Samad criticizes Alsana for not knowing anything about her Bengali culture. He says she doesn't bother paying attention to it. Alsana makes the important point that it's pretty much impossible to find even one culturally "pure" person in modern England anyway.