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Kiley Reid’s Novel Is About Race and Class and Other People’s Children


Kiley Reid’s Novel Is About Race and Class and Other People’s Children

Emira’s so other to Alix, and does and wears and says so many things that she and her friends would never say, she’s constantly searching for a connection. And I think she’s searching a little bit to put Emira into a box of what kind of language can I use with you, what kind of things can I show you that you’ll be excited about — “O.K., well, if you like Young Thug, maybe I don’t know you.” “Oh, look, you used the word ‘connoisseur,’ maybe I do know you.” I think she’s so afraid of misstepping with Emira, and seeming racist, that she continually tries to find things out about her, not because she thinks she’s interesting but because she wants a way in. And I think a lot of people do that. I’ve had those cringey moments where I just meet white people and they want to call me “girl” and “boo” immediately to make a connection with me.

But Alix is almost too charmed by how different Emira is — there is a bit of fetishizing. So many things that young low-income black women do end up in Vogue three years later, and there is this fascination with their style or how they talk or things they say, and Alix can’t get enough. But the fact that she’s paying her doesn’t really mean anything to Alix; she doesn’t understand that there’s a boundary that she shouldn’t be crossing.

It’s tempting to see Alix and Kelley in opposition to each other, but neither really ends up being the hero or the villain. How do they interact with race differently?

Alix sees racism as the biggest no-no, not because she thinks it’s the most wrong, but because it’s the most wrong to appear to be, I think. She looks to Emira to confirm everything she wants to hear. I think that need is really, really dangerous. If that need is guiding all of your actions, then things like having mold in poor schools or black women dying earlier than other demographics, those things kind of go away and you’re just like, How can I fill my little goodness meter? That’s really dangerous.

Kelley has a lot of black friends. He’s not one of those people who doesn’t see color, and I don’t think he believes in that, but he doesn’t think about himself contributing or benefiting from white supremacy in a way that would make him self-reflective about it.

The relationship between Kelley and Emira highlights the potential awkwardness of interracial relationships. There were a few times when Kelley did stuff that was not O.K., and Emira kept thinking, “All right, I’m going to let this one slide.” What about interracial relationships did you want to explore?

I really wanted to watch Emira figure out what kind of person Kelley was. In her mind I don’t think it’s “Is this person good or bad?” but “Can he get it?” I think that’s something a lot of people in relationships go through. Blackness means such different things to so many people, and to flatten that experience I think is almost anti-black. Kelley has to be good for Emira and her blackness, that is it. And she’s just trying to figure out those things. I think she’s also like, Is this guy good in bed? Is he funny? Can I bring him around my friends? Those things are just as important.

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