Analysis of A. Igoni Barrett’s BLACKASS

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Thirty-year old Furo Wariboko wakes up one morning to find that, in place of his black Nigerian skin, he now has a white skin. An unemployed graduate whose family look up to him and with a job interview at hand, Furo finds himself making some life-changing decisions on the spot. In his new form, he avoids being seen by any member of his family before he sets outs and joins the hustle and bustle of Lagos.

There is nowhere to go.

Blackass

Furo soon realises that, with his white skin, he could not blend with the crowd as it singles him out for people to focus attention on. It is much unseemly for a white man to walk that part of Lagos Furo for the most part of his life has been used too.

There was nowhere to go.

Blackass

His white skin alienates him from his family. He can’t bear to become their object of experiment because facing them will make him one. He finds himself at the cross-road where he must make decisions that would have dire impact on the life he leads. He is quick to notice the magical effect of his new skin on the people around him. It endears him undue favours and in fact, several job opportunities.

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The whiteness that separated him from everyone he knew.
And yet his whiteness had landed him a job.

Blackass

In trying to blend, Furo seeks shelter till he resumes work. That Syreeta gives him. Syreeta takes him in, feeds him, clothes him and as they get more intimate, calms his raging sexual hormones. Furo is well aware that everyone around him wants to take advantage of his whiteness; hence the preferential treatment he gets. Furo relishes this new experience and sever himself from his family (his dutiful mother, his loving sister, and his failing father) and past identity. He first legitimises his white face under his name. Later, he assumes a new identity along the way: that of “Francis Whyte”.

However, there are glitches in his strange transformation. First, his deep Nigerian accent places him in between his past and present. And then, the cheeks of his ass are black. The more he tries to efface his black ass with Syreeta’s bleach creams, the darker and searing it gets.

he was born black, and had lived in that skin for thirty-odd years, only to be born again on Monday morning as white, and while he was still toodling the curves of his new existence, he realised he had been mistaken in his assuming his new identity had overthrown the old

Blackass

Used to shying away from responsibilities and driven by his desire to escape his past, Furo (now Francis Whyte) makes one last run with the intention of starting afresh. He however makes the mistake of confiding in Igoni, whom he had earlier begged for accommodation. Igoni, since the accommodation incidence, had taken interest in Furo’s story. S/he has been able to uncover Furo’s identity and in fact made friends with Tekena, Furo’s sister, a Twitter sensation. Igoni betrays Furo and brings to his face the past he has been avoiding by the end of the novel.

Blackass tells a story of abrupt transformations, racial discrimination, exploitation, the working of the high classed society, and the intrusive power of social media.

Often compared to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis (1915), the narration of Furo’s transformation is as abrupt as that of Gregor Samsa. They both wake up one morning and then the transformation. In that regard, Blackass draws inspiration largely from Kafka’s masterpiece. Like Gregor, Furo is considered the key to his family’s financial upliftment. While Gregor Samsa is transformed into a giant vermin, Furo is transformed into a white man with a black ass.

However, that is where the comparisons end. In his vermin state, Gregor Samsa is a liability to his family and is kept out of the world’s sight. But Furo breaks away from his family before they could realise his transformation. And of course, Gregor Samsa’s transformation is symbolic of a society’s degeneration to its lowest ebb. However, given the reverential treatment of whiteness or anything close in Furo’s Nigerian society, it is safe to conclude that Furo’s transformation pushes him up on the social ladder; bestows him an erstwhile lacking social prestige; and opens doors of opportunities.

A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass lampoons society’s reception of race and gender, buttressing that racial discrimination is not peculiar to the whites alone. It is among the blacks too; in their reception of the people of the other race. The novel touches on the conceived superiority of a race over the other as evident in the singling out of Furo and the special treatment he is given on the basis of his whiteness.

“For the black man, there is only one destiny. And it is white”

— Frantz Fanon
Black Skin, White Masks

Major Characters

Furo is the protagonist of the novel. After the strange transformation of his skin from black to white in a typical Kafkaesque fashion, he flees and attempts to cut himself off his family and his past. Even when he knows his family is looking for him, he refuses to show up. He is the kind of man that runs whenever he is confronted by a problem. Furo Wariboko is an ideal individualistic person who cares the least about how others feel as a result of his actions and inactions.

Tekena is Furo’s tech-savvy sister. She joins Twitter, where she became a sensation, in order to look for her missing brother. She is the missing piece to Igoni’s jigsaw puzzle on the mysterious Furo’s identity.

Syreeta is the woman that shelters Furo. From Furo’s perspective, she does so because of his white skin and the mulatto baby she secretly desires. She feeds and clothes Furo while the latter decides on his course of action. She is sweet-talked by Furo to abort her pregnancy for him under the pretext that he wants them to start afresh. She lives off sugar daddies and promiscuous big men of the society.

In two words, she was a runs girl. In one, a prostitute.

Blackass

Igoni is a writer who unravels the mystery behind Furo, the white man with Nigerian name and accent. Like Furo, Igoni also undergoes transformation from being a man to the gender of ‘their’ likeness, a woman with a dangling penis in between her legs. She betrays Furo’s confidentiality when she invites his family to her place to see him before he makes the run for it again.

Themes

The novel touches on issues of gender, race, colour, exploitation, promiscuity, identity crisis, LGBTA sensibilities, discrimination, social media, and class disparity.

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