Heads of the Colored People

by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

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Why is Riley discussed more than Richard after the shooting in "Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology"?

Quick answer:

Riley is discussed more after the shooting than Richard because he is a more flamboyant and colorful character and therefore deemed more newsworthy.

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In "Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology," Nafissa Thompson-Spires explicitly refers to Richard as an "afterthought," the man who was "also shot" in the shooting of the more flamboyant and charismatic Riley. According to the author, Richard was an afterthought "because he was not the one with the blond hair or blue contacts or in any way exceptional."

The author makes several points with this detail in the story. She shows the way in which the news is regarded as entertainment, both by those who produce it and those who consume it. Even in death, some people are more suited to celebrity than others, and Riley's corpse is evidently deemed to have star quality. A related point is that death, the violent deaths of Black people in particular, is not taken seriously. In the paragraph after the one in which Richard is described as an afterthought, Thompson-Spires drily remarks,

And you should fill in for yourself the details of that shooting as long as the constants (unarmed men, excessive force, another dead body, another dead body) are included in those details.

The reports of this type of violence have become such a matter of routine that the reader, or the viewer, could write them. Saying that a Black man has been shot is so commonplace that you have to specify, as the author does, that the victim was a "well-read, self-aware, self-loving black man with blue contact lenses and blond hair and a periwinkle suit." Mere humanity is not a sufficient condition for the victim to matter.

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