The Case of . . .
Answering for All
Jace Kinkaid stood out in any crowd. With his six-footeight- inch height, he towered above
most of his classmates. Even when he was seated at a desk, he looked huge. And since
he was an African American, his skin color set him apart from his classmates, almost all
of whom were white.
Although, by and large, people were polite and nice enough to him, Jace felt
isolated from most of his peers and instructors. While he had one or two good friends
from high school with whom he kept in touch, he was not close to many people on
campus. His isolation came to a head, however, in the most public of places: his English
literature class. It happened when his instructor, a white man, was leading a discussion
on The Fire Next Time, a novel by noted black writer James Baldwin. The instructor
turned to Jace and asked him to comment on a passage from the novel.
“Does it ring true to you, Jace, as an African American?” asked his instructor, who
then went on to inquire, “What do African Americans think about the perspective that
Baldwin is taking?”
Jace was taken aback. What was he supposed to say? He hardly felt like a
representative of every black person. He barely knew how he felt, let alone everyone
else who was African American. What an absurd situation to be placed in—his instructor
asking him to answer for millions of other people. He felt awful—embarrassed, upset,
and angry at his instructor for putting him on the spot.
1. Why was the instructor’s question so troubling to Jace? If the instructor really
wanted Jace’s opinion about the passage, what should he have said?
2. Would the question have had a different effect if the instructor had also been
African American? Why or why not?
3. What are some cultural assumptions that the instructor is making about Jace?
About African Americans? About white people?
4. What response might Jace make in this situation to make his feelings clear
without causing excessive conflict?
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