Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Strategic Alterations and Afro-Asian Connections in Paul Beatty's "Tuff."

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Strategic Alterations and Afro-Asian Connections in Paul Beatty's "Tuff."

Article excerpt

This essay argues that Paul Beatty's Tuff does not simply employ or reverse stereotypes, but rather uses Afro- Asian connections to strategically alter stereotypes of urban black masculinity. In doing so, Beatty demonstrates the potential influences of polyculturalism on racial identification and affiliations.

In African American Satire: The Sacredly Profane Novel, Darryl Dickson-Carr writes that African American satirists use humour as a literary mode of critique to draw attention to and comment upon trends and stereotypes within black culture as well as within American racial politics as a whole. The satiric writing of Paul Beatty aligns with this trend by often critiquing expectations and stereotypes of black masculinity. Critical work on Beatty thus far has primarily focused on his first and most popular novel, The White Boy Shuffle. Very little critical work has been published on Beatty's second novel, Tuff, about a young black man named Winston who, with the help of an eclectic group of friends and mentors, embarks on an amusing and unconventional path to run for local political office. This essay lessens the gap in critical coverage of Beatty's writing and considers Tuff both as a stand-alone text deserving of close attention and in relationship to Beatty's overall body of work, as discussed by other literary critics. I argue that Beatty does not simply employ or reverse stereotypes in Tuff, but rather uses Afro-Asian connections to strategically alter stereotypes of urban black masculinity. In doing so, Beatty employs polyculturalism to reveal the complexities of racial identification--how one personally identifies in terms of race--and racial affiliation--how one associates one's self with a racial group or groups in terms of relationships and politics.

In Tuff, Beatty creates a central character, Winston "Tuffy" Foshay, whose self-definition and self-preservation in a racist society are facilitated not only by the influence of African or African American cultures, but also via disidentification with other cultures' people, products, and traditions. I use disidentification here after Jose Esteban Munoz and Roderick A. Ferguson, understanding it as a process through which minoritarian subjects can locate themselves within, take up, and (re)use representations not originally intended for them. Importantly, while Munoz and Ferguson focus more upon minoritarian subjects engaging with majoritarian representations, I use disidentification as a process that also works across and between minoritarian groups--in this case disidentification among racial minorities. (1) I argue that racial disidentification with the cultural products of a racial group within which one does not identify can result in racial affiliations with that racial group via relationships and political commitments. In Tuff, Beatty shows that taking interest or investing in another culture is not necessarily a rejection of one's culture of origin, but can instead be a disidentificatory practice of survival, one that produces new forms of cross-racial community and connection. Winston finds personal meaning in Asian/American cultural products in addition to African or African American cultural products. Beatty uses Winston's disidentification with Asian/American cultural products to strategically alter his otherwise stereotypical characterization as a young black man in an urban setting, yet this resulting racial affiliation neither reduces nor negates his blackness or his commitment to his community of origin. The text thereby purposefully employs stereotypes in satire to suggest that black identity and anti-racist politics can be polycultural without negating black identity or affiliation.

There are three key concepts that I borrow from other scholarship to inform my reading of Tuff and to develop my concept of strategic alterations of stereotypes in satire. The first concept, polyculturalism, comes from the work of Vijay Prashad, who defines it as "a provisional concept grounded in antiracism rather than in diversity. …

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