Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, White Girl, or Halfie is a story about a Dominican boy who talks about meeting and his expectations of sex with girls from different races. The story is in the form of a “How to” book; a self-help guide on what to do and what not to do on a date with a girl. But behind the simple narrative Diaz hides larger issues of identity and race. His attitude towards the different girls and their race is a result of not only his socio-economic status but also his race. Race, thus is quite important in this story as the girls do not have names, their desirability and consequent treatment by the protagonist is determined by the color of their skin and not their individual selves. The race of the girls determines how approachable they are to the protagonist. A black or a brown girl does not give in easily, a white girl gives in easily and a halfie is more worried about her emotions than about the date with the protagonist. Yunior’s imaginary encounters with different girls not only gives the reader an insight into how he feels about race but also how race affects the way he perceives the girls. It also reflects the social power structures Vis a vis the Latino and the other races in the country. Diaz’s story might come across as offensive, but what it does under this veneer of racist, sexist facade is to talk about the ugly truths of racial stereotyping and racial prejudices found in the society today. Through Yunior, the protagonist Diaz tells the reader how race is perceived by a Dominican black guy and how that changes the way he approaches girls from different races. Diaz is right is telling the reader that race does play an important role in how someone approaches a person from another race.
Diaz’s protagonist when talking about the white girl mentions that she is not from his neighborhood; she is from outside. This can mean that she is not only from another part of the city but from another socioeconomic and racial background as him. A white girl coming from outside could also mean that he lives in some kind of an enclave or a ghetto. The white girl calls him spanish and is shown as someone who gives in easily to the sexual advances Yunior, the protagonist. Yunior does not hold this against her, although there is a mention as to what he should do to make things easier. Yunior says, “Tell her that you love her hair, that you love her skin, her lips, because, in truth, you love them more than you love your own (Diaz 147).” Yunior’s attitude towards his own skin color and that of the white girl is brought out in these lines. He not only likes the eyes and hair of the white girl but he inherently feels that they are better than his and that he loves them more for it. It is also an indication of how a Haitian or a colored man looks at someone from a dominant race. He not only desires someone white but also craves to be like them, somehow trying to assimilate himself in a society that does not recognize him or accept him as an equal. By taking the white girl and making it look like it is easy he is maybe trying to talk about his acceptance or maybe trying to bring out his dominance over the white girl. “Whiteness is a sign of social mobility in these societies and it is inevitably transformed into an object of desire. In the story, Yunior’s sexual encounter with the white girl metaphorizes whiteness as sexual desire. When he suggests that “the white ones are the ones you want the most,” it is clear that sexual possession of a “whitegirl” is as close as Yunior can get to possessing whiteness itself (Moreno 17).” When talking about taking his date to eat, Yunior says, “You have choices,”, “If the girl’s from around the way, take her to El Cibao for dinner. Order everything in your busted-up Spanish. Let her correct you if she’s Latina and amaze her if she’s black. If she’s not from around the way, Wendy’s will do” (145). By taking the white girl to a restaurant like Wendy’s and not the local Dominican joint like he would do with the other girls, he is downplaying his race and his identity. Yunior’s decision to
eat at Wendy’s symbolically erases the difference between “us” (Dominicans) and “them” (Anglo-Americans) that is maintained through cultural practices and that constitutes a form of cultural resistance against the assimilationist ideals of dominant society (Moreno 18).
With a black girl or a brown girl Yunior’s imagined attitude is completely different from that of a white girl. He has a kind of affinity and a blase attitude towards them that he does not show to a white girl or a mulatto girl. He says that these girls from his neighborhood will not give it to him easily. He says that there might be a kiss and very rarely something more but for the most part he could forget about getting lucky. This is because as he says they have to live in the same neighborhood as him and have to deal with him on a regular basis. Unlike his description of a white girl or what he should be saying to her, he does not say much. There is a reference however in the first lines of the story over his preparations to welcome the girls. When cleaning the government issued cheese, he says he’d hide them behind milk boxes when it is a girl from the terrace. But for a girl from outside he says that he would probably hide them way above in the shelves where she would never find it. This simple action of hiding the cheese talks a lot about how he sees the black/brown girl against the white outsider. Government issued cheese is an indication of his socioeconomic status and with the girls from the neighborhood he does not really have to hide it. Maybe he puts it behind the boxes because he does not want them to eat it. The idea behind them being able to see it and the white girl not being able to see it is that he sees the black or the brown girl as someone his equal. He is one of them and there is nothing he needs to hide from them. However with a white girl, he does not only have to hide his race but also his socio economic status. Yunior shares a level of comfort with the black and brown girls because they are all alike. He says when it is a girl from the neighborhood he would take her to El Chaibo, the Dominican restaurant. There he would order in his broken Spanish, let a Latina correct him and a black girl look at him in awe. With them then, he is not ashamed to show who he really is. He is comfortable in his skin as both a black guy of Dominican descent. He accepts his dual heritage of a black Dominican speaking Spanish. however he would do no such thing when he is with a white girl. He also says that he would not tell the black girl stories about his school as she would have already known about them. Surprisingly with them, he does not even assert his machismo. He is content to let the bully on the street harass him. Yunior says that if the girls are from the neighborhood they would probably yell at him throughout or stay quiet if they are shy. HIs decision to stay quiet and not exert his machismo in front of the black girls means that he does not really care much about them and does not go to great lengths to impress them.
Although all girls are sexual objects for him, even in there there is a hierarchy. he treats the black girls completely different from how he would treat a white girl. O’fahey in his article about the complex ethnic problems in Darfur even though they are all muslims. He says that there are strong ethnic demarcations between the arab and the non-arab muslims and this is a cause for the violent problems between them. The Arabs would treat a Non-Arab indifferently and with contempt. Also a nomad or a farmer in the region would aim to become an Arab or someone from the elite section of the society by owning more cows (O’fahey 2004). Yunior does the same thing in this story. By taking the white girl to another restaurant and behaving differently with her he is trying to become one of her or trying to climb up the ethnic and the socio economic ladder. He does not want to be one of the people from his neighborhood and his attitude towards the neighborhood girls reflect this. Yunior says that the black girls are from the other part of the town (meaning they have a completely different lifestyle from that of his) and get dropped off by their parents. Even though they are obviously richer and more affluent than him, he does not accord them the same status as the white girl. It feels like Yunior himself is a racist, looking down on his own kind. Although he wants to be accepted by the white and wants to be one of them he would treat one of his own different from them even if the black girls he sees are white in every way except the skin color.
With a halfie, Yunior’s attitude changes again. He probably senses a part of himself in a halfie. He assumes that with a halfie the mother obviously would be a white. Perhaps he sees in the halfie a part of himself; trying to assimilate into the dominant white culture. Although the halfie is from his neighborhood and goes to the same school as he does, when they are together in the small space of his house, he says that she would pretend that she does not know him. The halfie just like Yunior is well aware of her interracial status and moans about how she feels disconnected with people from either race. She says that the blacks hate her and that it is only guys like Yunior who ask her out. When Yunior tries to touch her hair, she pushes it away, telling him that she does not like it. it is as it she too is ashamed of her hair. Yunior goes through something similar in the previous part of the story. When he is imagining himself meeting the mother of a white girl, he runs his hand through his hair just as the white boys would do. Only he says that when he runs his fingers through his hair there is only Africa. Although he tries the mannerisms of a white guy his hair is a painful reminder of who he really is. He sees the same thing in the halfie girl that is sitting next to him and does not try anything further when she asks him to stay away from her hair. The feeling of abandonment that Yunior and the halfie feel about their status is reminiscent of how the Mulato feels in Sejour’s “The Mulatto” (Piacentino 2007). The Mulatto in Sejour’s story is in the middle of the two races not knowing where he belongs. He does not know who his father his and his mother dies without telling him. Although he is half-white he is seen as a black person by the whites and as an interracial person by the blacks. When his mother dies he feels orphaned. Just as the Mulatto feels lost in Sejour’s story both Yunior and the halfie feel a sense of loss about their identity. Yunior however does not feel a kinship with the halfie for this. he still sees her as someone he can have sex with.
Racism is inherent in all aspects of the society, in schools, colleges and higher levels of the society (Beswick 2015). In Yunior’s case it is felt on multiple levels. Yunior is not only a Dominican but a black Dominican at that. Being a Dominican he is considered to be hispanic or Spanish as his rather ignorant white girl would call him and being a black Dominican he would be looked down not only by his people (The Dominican republic even though multi-racial has a predominant white nature/culture to it-light skinned people are at the higher strata of the society) but also in the United States where he is an immigrant. As he tries to get into the fabric of the American society he feels that he is sort of made invisible. His identity is grouped together with either the hispanics or the blacks and he is never seen as a black Dominican. Yunior is well aware of his identity as he makes good use of his broken spanish when he tries to impress the girls. He uses his identity to full extent when he is with a Latina or a black girl. Although he does not want to be one of them, he knows he is and behaves as such. With all the changing of identities and the trying to fit in tactics, Yunior is eventually confused about his identity. He is a black Dominican guy living in a foreign land trying to attain the ideal of the White.
Both Yunior’s race and the race of the girls he has these imaginary encounters with play a part in how he approaches them and how he imagines they will react to him (Alvarado et al, 2010). Perhaps because he wants a white girl badly that he imagines that she would be easy and maybe because he does not feel that black or halfie girls is not that much of a conquest, he says that they are not easy to take. Thus Yunior being a person belonging to the lowest of the societal ladder both in terms of race and socio economic conditions still comes across as a racist. He is racist in his preference for a white girl even though he does not have any great opinion of her and he is a racist when he thinks the black and the halfie girls are not good enough to be taken to a fancy restaurant. Diaz, through Yunior brings across beautifully how an immigrant black-spanish-dominican feels in a new country and how his dating pattern and his preferences towards women change based on his own identity and that of theirs. Racial prejudice still exists in the world and many a times it is something that determines how people approach one another. Even though in the story Yunior sees the girls as just sexual conquests, there is still a distinction between them owing to their race.
Alvarado, Beth, Barbara Cully, and Michael Robinson. "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, White girl, or Halfie by Junot Diaz." 2010. Writing as Revision. 4th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Pub., 2003. 235-37. Print.
Moreno, Marisel. "Debunking Myths, Destabilizing Identities: A Reading of Junot Diaz's "How to Date a Browngirl, Black girl, White girl or Halfie"" Afro-Hispanic Review 26.2 (2007): 103-17. Print.
Beswick, Richard. "Racism in America's Schools. ERIC Digest." ERICDigests.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.
O'Fahey, R. S. "Darfur : A Complex Ethnic Reality with a Long History." New York Times. N.p., 15 May 2004. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.
Sejour, Victor. "The Mulatto." The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates. Boston: W. W. Norton & Limited, 1997. 352-65. Print.
Diaz, Junot. “How to Date White Girl Black Girl or Halfie”. In Drown. New York: Riverhead Books. 1996.