Brown Girl, Brownstones

by Paule Marshall

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How does Paul Marshall portray racism in Brown Girl, Brownstones?

Paule Marshall portrays racism in Brown Girl, Brownstones as something that is replicated by its victims. Despite being subjected to racism themselves, many of the Barbadian families in Selina’s neighborhood exploit Black tenants in order to own homes in Crown Heights.

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Brown Girl, Brownstones takes place against the backdrop of the phenomenon of White flight, when growing numbers of White families left their traditional neighborhoods to go and live in the suburbs. The dream of suburban living is very much out of reach for the Barbadian families in Selina’s neighborhood, but they remain wedded to the idea of social advancement. They want to get on in life, just like any other immigrant group; they want to make their way in the land of opportunity.

But because the White suburbs are clearly out of reach, Barbadian families set their sites on moving to more upscale neighborhoods in the city, such as Crown Heights. In practical terms, however, this means that many of the newcomers from the Caribbean, despite being subjected to racism and prejudice, exploit Black families as tenants in order to live the dream of moving to a better area.

Instead of developing racial solidarity with Black Americans, all too many Barbadians are actively—albeit inadvertently—engaged in replicating the racism of White society, especially as it is manifested in economic exploitation. Society’s endemic racism has divided people of color from each other, thus ensuring that the system lives on.

To be sure, Barbadians would rather not engage in such exploitation, but as Selina’s mother ruefully reflects, they have no choice. The way that things are arranged, they simply can’t do anything differently; otherwise, they’ll lose out.

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