The Case of . . .
Jace Kinkaid stood out in any crowd. With his six-footeight- inch height, he towered above most of his classmates. Even when he was seated at a desk, he looked huge. And since he was an African American, his skin color set him apart from his classmates, almost all of whom were white.
Although, by and large, people were polite and nice enough to him, Jace felt isolated from most of his peers and instructors. While he had one or two good friends from high school with whom he kept in touch, he was not close to many people on campus. His isolation came to a head, however, in the most public of places: his English literature class. It happened when his instructor, a white man, was leading a discussion on The Fire Next Time, a novel by noted black writer James Baldwin. The instructor turned to Jace and asked him to comment on a passage from the novel.
Does it ring true to you, Jace, as an African American? asked his instructor, who then went on to inquire, What do African Americans think about the perspective that Baldwin is taking?
Jace was taken aback. What was he supposed to say? He hardly felt like a representative of every black person. He barely knew how he felt, let alone everyone else who was African American. What an absurd situation to be placed inhis instructor asking him to answer for millions of other people. He felt awfulembarrassed, upset, and angry at his instructor for putting him on the spot.
1. Why was the instructors question so troubling to Jace? If the instructor really wanted Jaces opinion about the passage, what should he have said?
2. Would the question have had a different effect if the instructor had also been African American? Why or why not?
3. What are some cultural assumptions that the instructor is making about Jace? About African Americans? About white people?
4. What response might Jace make in this situation to make his feelings clear without causing excessive conflict?