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Conflicting Setting in “So What Are You Anyway?”

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For many years, African Americans have endured the oppression of white superiors, but have put up a great fight for emancipation. Over time, the segregation that once existed has diminished, but continues to live on in the minds of some. In Lawrence Hills, “So What Are You Anyway”, the setting is a key contributor to the conflict of the story in regards to equality now being instilled into society, an innocent Carole being targeted and demeaned for the colour of her skin, and the intimidating, curious nature of the Nortons. Following the Civil Rights Movement in 1970, Toronto and many other nations were slowly progressing towards making the world a haven of equality and independence. Whites were learning to perceive and treat blacks as an equal, and blacks were savoring their newfound freedom.

In the short story, the Nortons bombard Carole with ignorant remarks using a blunt, over confident tone, but fortunately, the other passengers on the plane defend Carole, showing their acceptance for coloured people during this era: “‘Don’t touch her,’ the stewardess says. ‘Who are these people?’ someone says from across the aisle. ‘Imagine, talking to a child like that, and in 1970!’ One woman sitting in front of Carole stands up and turns around. ‘Would you like to come and sit with me, little girl?’” (Hill, 40). Before the Civil Rights Movement was a time where blacks and whites were scornful enemies and those of colour were classified as lower class in comparison to whites. White people were wealthy and quickly obtained Samaroo  power over blacks. This explains the Norton’s ignorance and their difficulty in accepting someone of a different race. They still believe that they are more powerful, considering they grew up despising coloured people.

However, now that equality is being instilled into society, some are becoming embracing of mixed races, while others are finding difficulty complying with equality, like the Nortons. Betty Norton represents people of today’s society because it seems most people have come to terms with a blended world and multiculturalism, but there are still a select few with a conservative mentality. Seeing that Carole was alone on the plane without parental supervision, Carole looks vulnerable and represents an easy target. The Nortons lack knowledge about mixed people in society, so getting the opportunity to sit next to Carole gave them a sense of superiority, leading them to manipulate this child into giving them answers to satisfy their egos: “‘Travelling all alone, are you?’ Carole swallows with difficulty. ‘Where do you live?’ he asks. ‘Don Mills.’… ‘Were you born there?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And your parents?’

My mother was born in Chicago and my father was born in Tuscan.’” (Hill, 38). The Norton’s intimidating interrogation correlates to the oppression of black people, dating back to the times of slavery. On account of the persistent Nortons, whose social norm included segregation, nagging and irritating Carole, the setting could represent not being able to escape the hatred, seeing that Carole clearly feels trapped and ambushed. By the end of the story, Carole experiences a loss of innocence. The Nortons were influencing her to look at people differently, categorizing them by race. In 1970, the segregation between blacks and whites was subsiding and nations were slowly learning to accept one another, despite their colour. Biracial individuals must have been infrequent at the time and it Samaroo seems as though the Nortons had never gotten the opportunity to partake in an open conversation with a coloured person, hence their interrogating and tenacious curiosity towards Carole: “…she hears the man and woman talking about her, so she keeps her eyes shut.

‘I don’t know, Henry,’ says the woman. ‘Don’t ask me. Ask her.’ ‘I’m kind of curious,’ he says. ‘Aren’t you?’” (Hill, 39). Of course, people today are so accustomed to seeing coloured individuals that they don’t see them for their race, but in 1970, white people still required some getting used to the fact that they’re not the only ones who deserve all the power and freedom. In the short story, Mrs. Norton was skeptical about asking questions, but still encouraged her husband to ask Carole. The Nortons were curious, but borderline racist with their negative approach and harsh language. They used derogatory terms, such as “Negro” and “mulatto” but only because they were the social norm at the time. Altogether, it came down to them wanting to know the race of her parents, perhaps because biracial relationships were not as prominent as today. Ultimately, even in today’s society, it seems as though most people have come to terms with a diverse world and multiculturalism, but there will always be an inhospitable few who refuse to let go of that old-fashioned mentality. Whether its 1970 or 2013, racism still exists today.

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