Maurice Carlos Ruffin – We Cast a Shadow

Maurice Carlos Ruffin – We Cast a Shadow

An unnamed southern city some day in the near future. Nigel’s parents want to do everything for their kid, they live in a good part of town and raise their boy with love. Especially his father wants to protect him from what he himself went through. Being black, he knows exactly what racism is like and every single day of his life, he is reminded of his skin colour. It’s the small nasty remarks of his colleagues, the fact of being identified as a danger wherever he goes and the constant reminder that he is inferior to people of white skin that almost exhaust him. Penny, his wife is white and this makes Nigel bi-racial with a much lighter skin colour. Yet, a birthmark troubles his father and therefore, he seeks help in a clinic where demelanization has become the latest trend: getting rid of the apparent sign of inferiority. He wants the best for his son but actually thus, he does the worst thing he could do to his small family.

It is easy to sympathise with the father since he is the first person narrator of the novel. At the beginning, we meet him as a junior lawyer in a high-profile company where he tries to fight his way up, yet is greeted with racism daily – some of it hidden behind nice words, some outspoken openly. It does not take too long to understand that the work environment is only a microcosm of the society he lives in and which has a clear ranking of power and prestige: male white heterosexuals rule whereas blacks, women and others have to fight to survive and will never be considered equal.

His decision to make life easier for his boy can easily be understand in this context, what it means for Nigel and for his family is a lot more complex. Maurice Carlos Ruffin succeeds in depicting the conflicting emotions and the oppositional opinions of the characters. From each respective perspective, they are right in their position which clearly outlines that there is not right or wrong and no objective correct answer to the question of what should be done.

Even though the novel is set in the future and surely the society is portrayed in an exaggerated way when it comes to racial questions, I assume there is a lot of truth in it that can be understood as a warning and gives you food for thought.