93 pages 3 hours read

Brendan Kiely, Jason Reynolds

All American Boys

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2015

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The Challenges of Combating Systemic Racism

In All American Boys, combating racism isn’t as simple as treating people equally on an individual level. Rather, as characters like Quinn and Jill discover, racism is so deeply ingrained in American culture and institutions that fighting it requires a complete shift of perspective, an understanding that racism is “everywhere and all mixed up in everything” (292), and then a choice to speak out and take action in order to affect real change. 

The novel begins with a clear, overt act of racism, as police officer Paul Galluzzo beats Rashad hard enough to break ribs, despite there being no evidence Rashad has done anything wrong. Paul calls Rashad one of the “fuckin’ thugs” who “can’t just do what [he’s] told” (23)—an opinion he clearly holds about African-Americans in general, not just Rashad. However, the initial responses to this act reveal how deeply racial prejudices are ingrained in American culture, as Rashad’s own father blames him for what happened. David berates his son for not following his advice: “Never fight back. Never talk back. Keep your hands up” (50). African-Americans like David place the responsibility of deterring racism not on the whites, who make prejudiced judgments, but on blacks, who must anticipate and avoid these judgments by changing their own behavior—and even their identities.