Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts


Kelli Cronin 

The Turbulent Race Relations of Twentieth Century Chicagoland

Paul Beatty’s Satire of the African-American Identity

Paul Beatty’s use of satire and exaggeration in his portrayal of the lives of young African-American men offers a critical commentary on the plight of the black population and privilege of the white population in the United States. Despite their understanding of the inevitability of the racial stereotyping that plagues them, Beatty’s protagonists ultimately overcome the struggles created by the discriminatory world in which they live as they assert their competence and ability. Beatty presents these protagonists satirically, as exemplified in the nameless narrator of The Sellout who is told he will never be successful in his initiative to obliterate racism from his Los Angeles neighborhood. The narrator achieves his goal by segregating public schools and public transportation, surprisingly resulting in the highest levels of academic success ever reported for local children of color. Beatty’s frequent use of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm in describing the identities of many different African-American protagonists provides the reader with a shocking commentary on volatile modern American race relations, offering an eye-opening understanding of the nation’s dark history of racism and the way it influences modern society.

The tensions between the black and white races of America presented in Beatty’s novels resemble Chicago’s history of ferocious racial relations during the twentieth century. Although the anonymous black narrator of The Sellout willingly reinstated segregation into his twenty-first-century Los Angeles neighborhood, the segregation of the real estate and mortgage industries of Chicago during the 1900s imposed segregation on real people. Beginning with the start of World War I, the city of Chicago experienced a high influx of African American migrants fleeing the South to take advantage of the work opportunities in the North. The real estate industry’s refusal to offer loans to potential black homeowners and the unscrupulous practices of redlining and “panic-peddling” demonstrated publically the power and persistence of anti-integration efforts in this northern city. The anti-black manipulation of the city’s housing industry stands as just one example of the much greater racism that permeated Chicagoan society, paving the way for a future of volatile race relations.

Major Works Consulted:

Beatty, Paul. The Sellout. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015.
---. The White Boy Shuffle. New York: Holt, 1996.
Reithmaier, Tina, and Camille Henderson Zorich. “Oak Park, IL.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005.
Satter, Beryl. Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black, Urban America. New York: Holt, 2009.
Photo Credit: Bauer, Ann. Paul Beatty. Digital image. Review: “The Sellout,” by Paul Beatty. Star Tribune, March 23, 2015. Web. February 23, 2016.