Writ'It ! Literary Analysis

"Heads Of The Colored People", by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (1)

19 juillet 2020

Heads Of The Colored People (cover)
Heads Of The Colored People (cover)

"Heads Of The Colored People" is a set of 12 short stories written by black american Nafissa Thompson-Spires. 

1 | Heads Of The Colored People : Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, And No Apology


We are in Los Angeles, a big city in the U.S. Riley is a cool black young man who likes manga anime series really much. And along with his girlfriend, Paris Larkin, he wears cosplays and hangs around the town on tours or on the bus. That fateful day, Riley is dressed as Tamaki Suoh, per his girlfriend’s request. Dressed ? Riley always manages to look completely like those characters whose styles he likes to reproduce. That means, from head to toe, you have no choice but to think of Tamaki Suoh, provided you know Ouran Highschool Host Club anime. On his way to the Convention Center where he had to meet Paris, he comes through the corner of Figueroa and Fifteenth. Earphones on, listening to Fetty Wap, he doesn’t want to hear Brother Man’s daily “how’ya’doin”, and brushes away the pamphlet he was trying to hand him, focused as he was on his role of Tamaki Suoh and the meeting with Paris. That doesn’t please Brother Man at all, who undertakes to let him know it. By using his (“large”) hand to turn Riley toward him with “the familiarity of a friend yet, contextually, with the violence of a stranger“, Brother Man violates Riley’s personal space. This altercation leads to a fight that ends with the intrusion of the police : police shoots them, although both of them were unarmed, as Kevan, an artist, sees it in his news feed. Details of the shooting are left to our own, “as long as the constants (unarmed men, excessive force, another dead body, another dead body) are included”. Later, Paris, who is also a drawer (surprisingly, she only draws heads, not bodies), participates in Kevan’s project, with her sketches of Riley.

Riley vs Brother Man

What are the similarities in both Riley and Brother Man ?
They are both black. Entirely black, with a “mocha-choca-latte-yaya skin”. Surrounded by white people, and a small community of black people like them. They date and like black women, no self-hatred. They both like anime series, but in their own way.
Brother Man is fond of drawing and report a certain social problem, that’s why his comics are qualified as “religious tracts, indoctrination materials” and even “some kind of gang documents”. On the other hand, Riley is particularly fond of manga series. He’s so captivated by Japanese art of drawing and their characters personalities that he likes to be their physical version and resemble them. His hair, his eyes, his voice, his way of walking and his posture, his dressing automatically change once he has decided which character he wants to be each day. However, this may not seem normal to all his black “fellows”. Brother Man, especially.
Brother Man calls him “Uppity, gay-looking nigga”. His copying Japanese style looked much more like a self-hatred, a denial of his black identity to him.


We know, for a fact, that if the protagonists were all white people, Police wouldn’t have shoot them that way. Blacks are still considered as extremely wild people, that you can’t trust for a penny. So if they don’t hold out their hands as soon as the order is given, it means they are going to shoot, better shoot on them first.
Another call to race matter is this passage : “it was just like Naruto v. Pain, only with two black guys, so you couldn’t tell if either one was the hero”. Naruto and Pain were engaged in a bloody war, because Pain has killed Naruto’s mentor and attacked his village. And considering the physical force, combined to experiences, you could say Pain was the hero. Let’s not forget that his tribe (the Akatsuki) was the most dangerous clan at that time, well-known murderers. However, after he attacked Hinata (Naruto’s lover), the game has changed and you could thereon affirm that Naruto was the one going to win the war. Back to Riley and Brother Man (actually, Richard Simmons is his real name), no difference could be made as they were all black, same tribe to be considered.

Social media's influence

What are the pros and cons of social media in this story? Social media helped people like Riley to be aware of other cultures, fashions and civilizations. However, can we say that it didn’t affect Riley’s lifestyle ?
Riley became too much used to be in characters’ mood, dress like them, think like them, talk like them, walk like them. This is the right way straight to acculturation, loss of one’s identity.

What the title inspires us

Heads Of The Colored People : Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, And No Apology” has a heavy meaning.

We infer that since Paris only draws heads, the “Heads Of The Colored People” is linked to this particularity of her. Heads talk much more than the rest of the body’s parts.
Four Fancy Sketches” is related to the four characters. The story is told under each character’s point of view. Their feelings and mood at different places and at the same moment, competing in the same event, are faithfully reported. The author has made it clear to understand each character without mistaking any action. And thanks to that, we all know, at least, that none of them wanted to die nor to provoke a clash that day.

Two Chalk Outlines” is cleared with this passage:

... and what is a sketch but a chalk outline done in pencil or words ?”.

And No Apology”. The policemen didn’t recognize they were wrong to shoot Riley and Richard. Instead, they looked for excuses to their wicked act. That’s why we read
Both men’s families would say the pictures didn’t say anything, that that’s not how anyone who knew the would remember them”.
Plus, we can notice that the author insist again and again or certain facts. She doesn’t care for the rules of writing, she just intrudes in the story giving more and more emphasis to shocking points.

In fact, this is all about heads. Black heads. Colour. Fighting for image, waging a silent but not influenceable war for blackness cause. What is the point in observing rules when our rights and well-being are scorned ? Saint Augustin:

"To an unjust law, no one is obliged to obey".

We don’t apologize for breaking rules.

Hugs, #KhashHmv

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