Study Guide

Maniac Magee Race

By Jerry Spinelli

Race

Amanda was suspicious. Who was this stranger kid? And what was he doing in the East End, where almost all the kids were black? And why was he saying that? (3.3)

Amanda is a pretty great kid, who is open-minded and friendly (if a little bossy and opinionated). So, if even she is concerned by a white kid in the black neighborhood, you know we're talking about some deep-seated prejudices.

The Cobras were standing at Hector Street. Hector Street was the boundary between the East and West Ends. Or, to put it another way, between the blacks and whites. Not that you never saw a white in the East End or a black in the West End. People did cross the line now and then, especially if they were adults, and it was daylight.

But nighttime, forget it. And if you were a kid, day or night, forget it. Unless you had business on the other side, such as a sports team or school. But don't be just strolling along, as if you belonged there, as if you weren't afraid, as if you didn't even notice you were a different color from everybody around you. (9.16-17)

What would it be like to not being able to go into an entire neighborhood because of the color of your skin? Do you know places like this? Do they still exist?

Dead silence along the street. The kid had done the unthinkable, he had chomped on one of Mars's own bars. Not only that, but white kids just didn't put their mouths where black kids had had theirs, be it soda bottles, spoons, or candy bars. And the kid hadn't even gone for the unused end; he had chomped right over Mars Bar's own bite marks. (10.33)

So, these are kind of like extreme cooties. How powerful is peer pressure in forming theses kids' attitudes? And what's worse—chomping on one of Mars's bars, or chomping on a black kid's bar?

Maniac kept trying, but he still couldn't see it, this color business. He didn't figure he was white any more than the East Enders were black, He looked himself over pretty hard and came up with at least seven different shades and colors right on his own skin, not one of them being what he would call white (except for his eyeballs, which weren't any whiter than the eyeballs of the kids in the East End.)

Which was all a big relief to Maniac, finding out he wasn't really white, because the way he figured, white was about the most boring color of all." (16.15-16)

So maybe Mars isn't colorblind, after all. It's almost like he's even better as seeing colors than anyone else—so good that, where everyone else sees the world in black and white, he sees it in full Technicolor.

Grayson had a way of jumping into a subject without warning; it was during Maniac's dessert that he abruptly said, 'Them black people, they eat mashed potatoes, too?'

Maniac thought he was kidding, then realized he wasn't. 'Sure, Mrs. Beale used to have potatoes a lot, mashed and every other way.' (24.4-5)

Yeah, we though he was kidding, too. This just shows how limited Grayson's experience is, and it almost makes us sympathetic. How can you get over your prejudice if there's a line down the street keeping you from making friends on the other side of town?

He knew he should be feeling afraid of these East Enders, these so-called black people. But he wasn't. It was himself he was afraid of, afraid of any trouble he might cause just by being there. (38.4)

It looks like Maniac does feel fear after all—fear of himself. He may not be afraid of black people, but he's afraid of how his not being afraid will make people act. Confusing? Yeah. But when you think about it, no more confusing and weird than dividing people by some arbitrary point on a grayscale.

Maybe it was that simple. After all, who asks why otters toboggan down mudbanks? But that didn't make it any less stupid or rotten a thing to do. The hatred in Mars Bar's eyes was no longer for a white kid in the East End; it was for Jeffrey Magee, period. (38.45)

Hey, this is kind of breakthrough! Mars hates Maniac for himself, not for the color of his skin. Baby steps.

Let the revolt begin. Let the 'rebels,' as they called the East Enders, come. Let 'em bust through the newly installed bars over the plywood on the windows. Let 'em bust through the steel door. They'll find themselves staring down the barrel of a little surprise. They squabbled over what the surprise should be. Uzi. AK-47. Bazooka. (39.22)

Um, this goes beyond a little ignorance and is just plain scary. Grayson's racism is weird, but the McNabs are actually prepping for a war. Cray-cray.

The pillbox was under way, no longer an idea in the backyard but a reality in the dining room. Now there was no room that Maniac could stand in the middle of and feel clean. Now there was something else in that house, and it smelled worse than garbage and turds. (39.35-37)

That's right: it smells like racism. A big, steaming, nasty pile of racism. We have to ask: why is Maniac still sticking around through this? Are the little McNab kids really worth it?

Which of course, is just what Maniac had had in mind. Remembering how little Grayson had known about black people and black homes. Thinking of the McNabs' wrong-headed notions. Thinking of Mars Bar's knee-jerk reaction to anyone wearing a white skin. And thinking: Naturally. What else would you expect? Whites never go inside blacks' homes. Much less inside their thoughts and feelings. And blacks are just as ignorant of whites. What white kid could hate blacks after spending five minutes in the Beales' house? And what black kid could hate whites after answering Mrs., Pickwell's dinner whistle? But the East Enders stayed in the east and the West Enders stayed in the west, and the less they knew about each other, the more they invented. (41.4)

So, Maniac's solution to race relations is to invite everyone over to dinner at Mrs. Pickwell's house. Would that really work? Do we all just need to get to know each other better?

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