In Percival Everett's novel Erasure, what are the initial ideas regarding race held by the protagonist Thelonious Ellison?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the beginning of Percival Everett's novel Erasure, it's very evident from Thelonious Ellison's journal entries that he does not believe in subscribing to racial stereotypes.

Himself African American, he purposely describes himself as not conforming to racial stereotypes, showing his reader he does not believe in society's popular notions concerning what characteristics people of a particular race should possess. For example, he says, "Though I am fairly athletic, I am no good at basketball," because a common stereotype is that African Americans, like Michael Jordan, naturally excel in playing basketball.

He also uses his list of favorite musicians to contradict commonly subscribed to stereotypes: "[Gustav] Mahler, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Parker, and Ry Cooder." Not only does this list show a wide and contradictory list of taste preferences, it is also a list of fairly diverse ethnicities, whereas the stereotype would be that African Americans listen to music performed by African Americans. Since the novel was published in 2001, it's also true that the predominant stereotype is that African Americans listen to rap. In contrast, Ellison's list consists of a white, Austrian-German 19th century composer; an African-American pop singer of the 1960s; an African-American jazz musician of the 1930s and 40s; and a white Californian famous for playing with the Rolling Stones.

Final stereotypes he does not conform with are that he "cannot dance," "did not grow up in any inner city or the rural south," and his family members are all educated, white-collar professionals. Ellison's nonconformity to racial stereotypes shows that he does not hold the same stereotypical beliefs about race that others do and does not believe in stereotyping race.

However, as the novel progresses, he learns more and more secrets about his past, his family, and even himself that make him even question his understandings of race.

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