New People – Book Review

Book Review

New People by Danzy Senna

New People

New People is about a multiracial woman named Maria. These are some of the terms she uses for multiracial people:

Miscellaneous People

Mulatto (her favorite word, which means little mule) and Mulatta

Multiracial

Biracial

The “N” Word

Odd, twisted girls

Racially nebulous

Quadroon

Negro

Born again black people

Butterscotch

Mestizo Abandoner

Mixed

“Everything” and

my least favorite, “Mutt.”

She also says things like, “Being black and looking white was enough of a freak show” and “He was embracing his black identity.” Apparently, biracial people can absolutely not embrace their white identity. So passing for black is fine; passing for white is not.

 

It’s as if the author, Danzy Senna, had plugged biracial into every thesaurus she could find and then used the words over and over ad nauseam. Maria measures everything and everyone by race and wouldn’t you know she is engaged to a biracial man, but falls for a black poet. I suppose that’s the premise of the book. By the way, the term New People was not invented by Senna. It was also a magazine that was started in the 1980s by Yvette Walker-Hollis.

 

I realize that a lot of readers think this book is quite funny. A review in Essence magazine thinks it’s hysterical. There is that. I also watched a new “comedy” on Netflix last week with a biracial character. Many “jokes” were made at his expense because he was biracial. His mother repeats several times that she hopes for “butterscotch babies.” Why is it suddenly OK to make jokes about the multiracial community?

 

When I read fiction, I ask myself about a quarter into the book if I care about the characters. In New People, I knew by page 14 that I didn’t care what happened to these people. I re-check half way through and with this book, things only got worse. Other reviewers of Danzy Senna’s works do not share my opinion. She and her book are being heavily promoted and praised. She is clearly the biracial darling of the moment. I read most books about multiracial people because of my work with Project RACE and the multiracial community. I can honestly say no person I have ever met—multiracial or otherwise—is preoccupied 100 percent of the time with race, like Maria. They are usually the people who scream, “There is no such thing as race because it’s a social construct,” but they are the same people who give you an entire host of words about the multiracial community. You may want to think about that for a moment.

 

To be fair, if you are looking for a book that presents an entire population as screwed up, also with no scientific basis, New People should fit into your life perfectly.

 

Susan Graham

 

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