Heads of the Colored People

by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The most prominent theme throughout this collection of short stories is race. Most stories, with the exception of a few, directly address racism in America and its impact on individuals. Using impressive character development, Thompson-Spires explores the lives of individuals to illuminate how racism functions systemically. A great example of this theme is the story “Fatima, the Biloquist: A Transformation Story.” In this story, Fatima is a biracial teenager who attends an all-white prep school. She is trying to find her sense of self when she meets Violet. Violet introduces her to Black identity and culture. Through her friendship with Violet, she gains a greater sense of right from wrong.

Class is another prominent theme. The stories are intersectional in that they recognize the role of various forms of identity in the material realities of the characters. For example, race is never the sole experience of an individual. One’s identity is also impacted by class, gender, ability, and so many other factors. The story “The Necessary Changes Have Been Made” is a great example of how Thompson-Spires incorporates class in her stories. Randolph is a well-off professor of Black literature. His social standing causes him to look down upon women and people of other races.

Feminism is another theme in this collection. The majority of these stories are told from the perspective of women. Many explore how gender and race intersect in the lives of Black women. For example, “Wash Clean the Bones” is the story of a single Black mother who is trying to provide for her children. She sings at funerals to make extra money and learns the horrors of race in America. She sings at the funeral of a young man who has been shot many times. The experience causes her to reflect on her young Black son’s life. She wonders if she will be able to keep him safe in such a violent and racist world.

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