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Posted June 5, 2009
I am being kind when I say that Cashay (a character named after a box of tampons that was sold between the 1930s-1940s) is a truly horrible book. I found it to be very amateurish, predictable, boring and racist. This book isn't fit to be used to line my bird cage with.
As a black mother from the so-called inner city, I really wanted "Cashay" to be a good read and an inspiring novel -- one that I could confidently share with my young teen-aged daughter as an example of the "new" white awareness of black experience and family life. Instead it was an awful novel, a throwback to the "old" racial stereotypes of the pre-Obama years. Despite the promises made on its cover that it was to offer a powerfully convincing portrait of a mother-daughter relationship in a Chicago housing project, "Cashay" indulges in the worst kind of stereotyping one could imagine: a hopelessly drug-addicted and promiscuous mother (Do all black mothers shoot up? Do all of them really have children out of wedlock with numerous men? Do all black men really abandon their families once they become fathers?), a drive-by shooting that takes the life of Cashay's sister Sashay (do black mothers invariably rhyme the names of their children?), a violent drug-dealing criminal who kidnaps "Cashay" in order to rob her white mentor (are all back men to be seen as gun-wielding robbers who use and abuse black women?), a central character who wishes she were white so that she could then be "pretty" (do all black girls secretly envision white females as embodying the norm of beauty?). No, this was not the kind of novel by a white author that I wished to share with my daughter -- not by a long shot!
I certainly didn't expect from this book the kind of insight into black experience that a reader gets from Toni Morrison. At the same time, I was not expecting, either, the wholesale minstrel show that "Cashay" turned out to be. To me, the most insulting aspect of McMullan's novel was its unquestioned assumption that Cashay could only be "saved" by white women: certainly not by her aunt or her own mother (who, remember, was too busy taking drugs to attend to her children), but by a white nun, a white school counselor, and a white "mentor." But then this is a "white" book, after all. A book not simply written by a white woman -- which is fine and in itself no cause for complaint -- but a book written by a white woman for white readers about the hopeless plight of black people living in the inner city, unless, that is, they happen to have the good fortune to be rescued from themselves by the intervening (and in the nun's case, heaven-sent) agency of white saviors who know what is best for them. "Driving Miss Daisy," move over please for "Driving Miss Margaret"!