How to Make a Slave and Other Essays

by Jerald Walker

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Race Stories Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on July 26, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 682

Once a year, Walker’s college hosts a dinner for its faculty of color. Conversation ranges from student conflicts to gardening to race. At this particular dinner, the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, serving as the hostess for the gathering, rises to greet the group and notes that Walker was involved in “an altercation” en route to the dinner.

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The room is aghast as Walker begins to narrate the conflict immediately preceding this dinner. After leaving his office during class change, he made his way to the building where the dinner was being held. A white security guard in the lobby asked him to stop as he proceeded to his destination. Walker was at first uncertain that she was talking to him; after all, he looked quite professorial in his sport coat with elbow patches and with his matching leather bag. As she proceeded to call for him to stop walking, Walker finally turned to face her and asked why she was singling him out. She replied that she was doing so simply because she could. Walker acknowledged that a group of Black men often gathered in front of the local homeless shelter a block away, and it was conceivable to imagine that one of them could enter this building hoping to steal someone’s iPhone or laptop; however, he clearly didn’t fit that description. Neither did he attempt to flee the building as he was summoned by the security guard, which indicated that he had no ulterior motive for being there.

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Undeterred by Walker’s confidence, the security guard demanded to see identification that proved that he belonged in the building. Because of his position on campus, Walker was aware that anyone entering a building after 6:00 p.m. was required to show identification; this was one hour before that time. Instead of producing identification, Walker assured the guard that after she asked the other people in the lobby for their identification, he would produce his own. The guard retorted that she knew “every single” person in that lobby besides him and demanded that he either produce identification or leave. Walker left, heading toward his dinner as planned.

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Latest answer posted August 20, 2021, 6:25 pm (UTC)

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The guard arrived at the dinner party with “reinforcements,” who turned out to be a lone Black guard. She apologized for breaking up the dinner as she relayed a description of a “suspicious” person in the building. The vice president placed her hand on Walker’s shoulder and said, “I believe this is your man.” The guard was so appalled that she “slapped her forehead.”

Walker’s colleagues were livid, calling for everything from an apology to a protest. When the voices grew quiet, a Black man spoke up and admitted that he’d been stopped by that guard, too. Two other Black men then said the same thing had happened to them. Unlike Walker, each of these men had produced the identification asked of them; Walker considered that they might have done so for their own safety. He respects that mentality. After all, everyone knows how race stories begin, but no one knows how they will end.

Analysis 

Walker uses irony to demonstrate the societal work that still needs to be done to improve the everyday experiences of Black Americans, including on college campuses. When this altercation occurred, Walker was en route to a dinner meant to serve faculty members of color; the dinner provided time and space to validate the unique contributions of a diverse group of professionals. Ironically, Walker could not arrive at his destination without first being asked to prove the purpose of his physical presence on campus; he was singled out because his race contrasted with the overwhelmingly white student population. While the college has taken measures to honor diversity on its campus, the message has not been embraced by everyone, as is evident by the white security guard’s repetitive targeting of Black men who enter the building. The discrepancy between the lofty goals of the college and the common experiences of Black faculty members demonstrates the need for honest, organic conversations to foster much-needed change.

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