I’ve been reading some more literary critics extoll Mohsin Hamid’s new novel The Last White Man, about a world in which white people wake up in the morning with dark skin, which eventually leads to a happy ending where the problems caused by white people fade away.
I’m struck by how every single critic seems to think of race as being purely a matter of skin color.
Thus, if George Floyd had only woken up one morning with white skin, nobody would have ever noticed that he used to be black, and he would have been free to pass all the counterfeit sawbucks he felt like.
Or at least that’s how book reviewers would seem to think about the question, if they ever asked themselves hard questions about race.
In the novel, Anders, presumably some kind of Nordic, takes a week off from work at the gym to hide his shame that his skin is much darker. When he returns with his new browner skin, his boss tells him he would have committed suicide instead of accepting his fate.
In reality, of course, Scandinavians named Anders frequently take a week off work and then return with darker skin color from lying on the beach in Majorca. Nobody thinks they’ve changed race. Their facial structure doesn’t change at all. They just look like whites with a dark tan. (Scandinavians tan quite well.)
So, one obvious question literary critics might have asked is: What else changed besides Anders’ skin color to keep his friends from asking him where he went on vacation? Did his hair change? His facial structure? His skull shape? His musculature? The proportions of his skeleton? His brain?
And if everything changed in Anders to make him convincingly look like a member of a darker race, which darker race did he look like? Did he look like, say, Mohsin Hamid or like George Floyd?
Or do literary critics find that all nonwhites look the same to them?
It’s much simpler to keep repeating the mantra that race is just a social construct and has no biological reality other than skin color.
But it sure dumbs things down.