Study Guide

White Teeth Race and Ethnicity

By Zadie Smith

Race and Ethnicity

This theme is like the elephant in the room of White Teeth. And this elephant is wearing a pink tutu and dancing an Irish jig. The novel isn't exactly about race and ethnicity, or what it means to belong to a certain racial or ethnic group, yet we won't deny that race and ethnicity come up again and again. That's because this book is actually about the modern condition—what it means to be part of the world today. And race and ethnicity play crucial roles in the state of the modern world, since globalization is bringing very different people together. As the narrator reminds us, this is the century for all kinds of people to gather in the same place.

Questions About Race and Ethnicity

  1. What are the consequences of the racially, culturally, and ethnically mixed environment in which this story takes place? How does the diversity of North London affect the characters or the story?
  2. What roles do race and ethnicity play in the novel? Why do they matter (or not)? How do they matter or not matter?
  3. How realistic are the portrayals of what it is like, or what it feels like, or what it means, to be non-white? Does Zadie Smith fashion a world that seems close to reality? Are certain elements played up or down in Smith's universe?
  4. Which characters are most affected by their racial or ethnic identities? How and why are these characters, in particular, affected? How do these categories impact different generations of characters differently?

Chew on This

White Teeth is not about race or ethnicity.

White Teeth would be an entirely different book without the racial and ethnic diversity Smith presents.