She is brown—all-over brown—hair, eyes, skin. So brown the youngest daughter used to say, "I can eat you like a chocolate bar, Ma," which made the mother laugh. Her mother's brown reminds her of everything she loves: Chocolate. Dark wool. The smell of earth. Trees. The girl and her sister's own skin is coppery—somewhere between their mother's deep brown and their father's lighter skin. (Prologue.3)
Toswiah describes her family's skin colors by comparing the shades to things she loves, which tells us how much she loves her family. If you had to describe your own skin color in the same way, what would you say?
There weren't a whole lot of other blacks in Denver. Cops were our family. Cops were our friends. Daddy was the only black one in his precinct. It was different there, though. Black. White. It didn't matter. Cops were cops. We were all one big family. All on the same side of the law. We were the good guys. For years and years that was true. (3.2)
Here, Toswiah talks about a part of her father's identity that is more important to him than race. She says the fact that cops are all family is "true," but that family quickly splinters apart after Raymond Taylor's shooting. Some family…
As my father talked about the boy, he became more real. I didn't know his name, but I felt like I didn't have to. He was black and I was black, and maybe somewhere along the way we would've met. Maybe we would've become friends. I imagined the boy holding a basketball above his head, saying Like this, Toswiah. Just let it roll off your fingers and fly. (4.12)
Why does Toswiah feel like she knows Raymond Taylor, without knowing anything about him but the fact that he was also black? Is there some universal element of the experience of being black that she has not acknowledged even to herself that makes her feel connected to him?
Cops murdering. Cops murdering a black kid. White cops murdering a black kid. My father turning at the first shot to see the kid standing there, his arms raised above his head. The second and third shots. The kid falling. My father's face, first surprise, then anger, then fear maybe—that his friends could do this, could be so afraid of a black boy that they could shoot without thinking, without remembering that he, Officer Green, was black, that black wasn't a dangerous thing. (4.20)
This quote touches on a really uncomfortable element of racism: Even though the white officers know that being black in and of itself does not make a person dangerous, there's a part of them that doesn't know this, that responds to fear and panic in a way that reveals their true feelings and prejudices.
And I didn't answer. Because, back then, I couldn't imagine being anything else. I loved Mama's skin, loved the way it smelled and felt. I loved looking in the mirror and seeing my own brown face staring back at me. Even if there weren't a whole lot of black people in Denver, the mayor was black and I was black and Lulu was, too. And my family and Grandma. The thought of waking up anything or anybody else scared me. (5.8-9)
For Toswiah, at this point in the novel, being black is just part of who she is. It's not something she wants to change because then she would be changing part of her identity—which, of course, is exactly what she later has to do. All her favorite people are black… so why does her sister say she hates being black?
"They thought it was gang related—"
"Because he was black. That boy was standing, facing them, with his hands raised. And they shot him. Both of them. Bullets came from both guns. We both know that. We all know that." (5.20-21)
Why is it important that bullets came from both guns? The book could have taken essentially the same course even if only one white cop had shot Raymond Taylor. What's different because the incident involves two white cops instead of just one?
"And what about the things that scare me? I'm sick of this. Gang talk and everybody looks my way." Daddy looked hard at Inspector Oliver. "Anyone stop to think that there aren't even enough black boys in Denver to make up an all-black gang?" (5.32)
Daddy's talking sense and statistics now—facts, which are always the enemy of fear. And it sounds like he's the recipient of racist behavior from other cops, too.
"I'm playing devil's advocate here. You're making it about race, so I'm—"
"I'm not making it." My father shook his head. I could feel his exasperation across the deck. "It is about race. If Raymond Taylor was white, I don't think he'd be dead now." (5.44)
Is there any chance that Raymond Taylor's shooting was not about race? How does the author describe the incident itself to let us know that it must be about race?
There weren't many black people in Denver, but the ones who lived there were angry. There was a protest. And a rally. There was a small riot in downtown Denver. Two black ministers gave sermons about injustice that made the local paper. We weren't churchgoing and we didn't march. But the rage was all around us. And in the center of it, there was Daddy, the only black cop in his precinct, coming home from work after a day with not a single white cop speaking to him. The white cops who had been our friends became strangers. (6.1)
Do you think the treatment Daddy receives at work is more about race or more about the fact that he is planning on breaking the Blue Wall of Silence? Is it even possible to separate the two? What do you think Daddy himself would say?
"All my life I've walked into the precinct as a black cop. But I was a cop first, so when the racist jokes were flying, I let them slap me on the back and sometimes laughed right along with them—even had my own to tell about white folks. It was like that—black, white, we were all cops, that's all. Cops first." (6.2)
Daddy describes being a cop as something that transcends race. However, we quickly see how flimsy this idea is after Raymond Taylor's shooting.