Sometimes, books can leave you high, dry, and wanting more. At times, you are angry at the author’s refusal to quench your thirst for an envisaged ending.
You begin to ask questions: what happens next? What will happen to these characters? Why did the author not end it this way? Why did the author choose this ending? What prompted the seemingly abrupt ending?
That’s how powerful suspense-filled novels can be. And that was just the way I felt after reading A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass. I wanted more. A dam of insatiable yearnings burst within me. But then, authors have a right to influence the genesis and final destination of their stories. They own that right, and no one, not even the readers should deny them.
Anyways, that’s not where this article is heading. The thematic preoccupation of the text borders heavily on identity. The protagonist, Furo Wariboko is stuck in identity and acceptance limbo, and he struggles to find his real self.
Furo, a black man of Nigerian descent suddenly wakes up in the pigmentation of a white man. Upon discovering this anomaly, “He sat up with a sudden motion that swilled the panic in his stomach and spilt his hands into his lap. He stared at his hands… He clenched his fists, squeezed his eyes shut, and sank onto the bed.” Pg. 9
What would you have done too, waking up to find yourself wearing a new identity? This new identity bestowed to him by fate would later shape and change the course of his life. It propelled him towards paths that being a black man may not have granted him.
One of the things that struck my attention was the fact that despite his obvious “whiteness”, his buttocks were robustly black (this is what informed the book’s title, I believe), a constant reminder of the past he is forced to leave behind.
Although Furo is white in appearance, he’s a black man on the inside. Despite the transformation, he could not let go of his past. He speaks like a Nigerian and even acts like one, a fact that every other character attests to.
According to the author of Blackass, “No one asks to be born, to be black or white or any color in between and yet the identity a person is born into becomes the hardest to explain to the world.”
This brings me to the question of identity. Wikipedia defines it as a name or persona—a mask or appearance one presents to the world—by which one is known.
On this side of existence, identity-related issues seem to be gaining grounds day after day. As humans, certain existential questions like: “Who am I? What am I on earth to achieve? What is my purpose?” And lots more permeate our thoughts.
Why is it difficult to explain our identity? Every human on earth wears different caps of identity. One could be a father, brother, uncle, friend, boss, Christian, philanthropist, and lots more at the same time. And society expects us to function effectively in each assigned role.
In Blackass, Furo, having found himself wearing a new hat of identity, becomes alienated from the past. Memories of the past still linger and even interfere with the present, but he later learns to seize the benefits and privileges attached to his newly found identity.
His society heaps certain responsibilities on him due to his whiteness. He changes his name to Frank Whyte because a white man with a Nigerian name raises brows.
Similarly, societal expectations are often in accordance with our identity (a father must provide for his family, a mother must nurture her children, etc.)
The Nigerian leaders, for instance, are expected to govern the nation, bearing in mind the components of democracy. One of their many identities is that of a leader. But when they fail to do what is expected, their identity is questioned.
This is also seen in the case of Blackass’ protagonist. However, “he (Furo Wariboko) knew that so long as the vestiges of his old self remained with him, his new self would never be safe from ridicule and incomprehension.”
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ABOUT THE WRITER
Abimbola F. Abatta will forever be grateful to the school of life. Life has taught her so many lessons through her everyday experiences. She writes, teaches, edits, proofreads, and inspires. As a lifetime scholar, she is devoted to learning from life’s experiences and sharing the lessons with the world. She is passionate about inscribing impact, influence, and inspiration through words. You can follow her on Facebook