Study Guide

One Crazy Summer Race

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The last thing Pa and Big Ma wanted to hear was how we made a grand N**** spectacle of ourselves. (1.5)

Delphine realizes that how she acts isn't just a reflection on her or her folks; she represents all African American people. That's a lot of pressure for an eleven year old (or anyone, really). Ugh.

A large white woman came and stood before us, clapping her hands like we were on display at the Bronx Zoo. (3.13)

Nobody wants to be treated like an animal. This is exactly how Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern feel when people stop to take their picture in the middle of the airport to take their picture. What these people are really saying is that it's weird for African American people to act like humans. No wonder it bugs Delphine so much—it's super offensive and racist.

I found us a place in line behind Puerto Ricans who didn't look Puerto Rican but who spoke Spanish. Then I remembered our study of the fifty states. They were probably Mexicans. (10.5)

Hmm… is it just us or does Delphine stereotype people based on race, too? Here she explains what people in front of her in line look like. Sure, she doesn't mean anything bad by it, but she still makes snap judgments based on race.

"Li'l Sis, are you a white girl or a black girl?"

Fern said, "I'm a colored girl." (10.16-17)

Delphine explains to us that there's a big difference between saying black and colored. The girls don't care very much which word is used, but everyone at the Center gasps when they hear the word colored. Even though Fern is black, there are still rules and expectations about how she should self-identify.

Vonetta had gone over Miss Patty Cake with the black Magic Marker, leaving pink lips and pink rouge circles peeking out on a once-white face. (14.59)

Fern is ticked when she sees her beloved doll covered in marker from head to toe. It's not just because Vonetta destroyed her stuff, though, it's because Fern didn't have a problem with the doll being white. Even though Crazy Kelvin thought it was a huge problem, Fern just didn't see what the big deal was. To her, a doll isn't about race.

I wanted to ask him how it felt to have slanted eyes, hair like pine needles, and coppery-colored skin. Which one was he more: Chinese or colored? (17.7)

We're pretty sure this isn't the best question to ask Hirohito. After all, why does it matter? Just because he's mixed race doesn't mean anything. Besides, it goes against everything Delphine has told us about how she feels about race. She's treated differently because she's black, but then judges Hirohito because he's not black enough.

The Mike Douglas Show wasn't the only place to find colored people on television. Each week, Jet magazine pointed out all the shows with colored people. My sisters and I became expert colored counters. We had it down to a science. (18.12)

This game of counting black people on TV shows that there are very few black people represented on TV and in the media at this time. In fact, there are so few people that you can count them.

It hadn't occurred to me that Cecile didn't own a hot comb or curling iron, even though that fact was a big and thick as her unpressed braids. She'd said, "Naughty? Your hair ain't naughty. It ain't misbehaving. It's doing what God meant it to do." (24.2)

Cecile sets the girls straight when they think their hair is "misbehaving" simply because it's a little hard to tame, explaining that this is how it's supposed to be. This exchange makes Delphine realize how much she expects everyone to look like white people. Even if they have black skin, she still thinks they should have straight hair.

These people didn't look like any white people I had ever seen. Even their skin was paler, their hair more white than yellow. (25.23)

We can tell that Delphine is still figuring out this whole race thing. Why? She's still learning how to talk about race. Part of her journey is understanding why it's okay to talk about race in certain situations (like at the Center) and not cool in other scenarios (like asking Hirohito about his race).

"I birthed a black nation. From my womb black creation. (30.22)

The girls might edit Cecile's poem, but they make an important change. They change it from talking about the experience of being a mom to being black. Adding in that word ("black") and reciting it at the rally gets everyone thinking about how black people don't have equal power or rights.

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