‘How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)’ is a short story by Junot Diáz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, and was first published in his book Drown in 1996. Since then, it has won praise for its satirical and perceptive portrayal of personal relationships and societal dynamics. The narrative assumes the form of a direct speech to the reader and offers guidelines and suggestions for approaching women from various racial backgrounds. The Latina narrator provides advice based on his personal experiences and cultural ideas. Diaz explores issues of race, class, and cultural expectations in relationships using a combination of humor, irony, and vivid imagery while also questioning stereotypical conceptions and societal standards.
How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie) | Summary
The text written almost as an instructional manual, opens with asking the readers to wait for their family members to leave the apartment and lie to them about being sick and hence unable to visit a relative. Once they have left, the refrigerator is to be cleaned, and the test gives specific details on how cheese has to be placed in the fridge depending on where the girl who is about to visit is from. It is important to remember to put everything back to as it was to avoid a scolding from one’s mother. The text then asks the reader to hide embarrassing pictures, specifically mentioning one where the individual is donning an afro. Subsequently, instructions are given to clean the washroom as well as for showering and dressing up. The reader has to wait while watching TV while sitting on the couch. The girl may be accompanied by her parents, who wouldn’t want her to date ‘Terrace-people’, but she will manage anyway. The reader may expect some sexual activity if the girl is white.
The directions to reach have to be provided in good-enough handwriting for the girl’s parents to not think of one as stupid. Occasionally it is advised to check the parking lot, but if the girl is a local one may relax as she will come naturally when she is ready. Sometimes she may bring over her friends as well, and even though it means one won’t get any alone time with her, the company will still be enjoyable and welcoming. Occasionally, the girl will not show up and apologize the next day at school, and one will fall for her apology and ask her out again. The reader has to wait outside his apartment for the girl while the neighborhood is busy with traffic and if his friend asks if he’s still waiting for her, one has to excitedly agree. If she doesn’t show up, go back inside and call her house, ask if she’s there and when her father answers, hang up without revealing your identity.
After a while, the girl will arrive in a Honda or a Jeep, greetings will be exchanged, and she will inform that her mother wants to meet the reader. It is important to not panic and greet her mother properly while running one’s hand through their hair in classic whiteboy fashion. The girl will look good. One will prefer a white girl, but most out-of-towners are either of color or bi-racial. There is no need to be surprised if a bi-racial girl’s mother is white. One won’t care about the mother too much, and she may ask for better directions, which have to be provided even if adequate ones were given beforehand.
The girl has to be made happy, and several options may be pursued depending on the girl’s ethnicity, which the author describes in detail. Local stories may be interesting to outsider girls. One can narrate the story about someone storing tear gas in their basement and how the canisters cracked one day and spread to the whole town. It is important to not mention how their mothers may recognize the scent from the time America invaded their native lands. One should always hope to avoid encountering their nemesis, Howie, an aggressive Puerto Rican kid who may taunt the reader about their new date. The girl may or may not respond. It is ideal to not engage with Howie physically and to avoid losing a fight on a first date.
Dinner will be difficult as one may have trouble initiating conversation. A biracial girl may share how her parents met during a time when it was radical to do so. One’s brother may have once commented negatively on something similar he heard, but it is advisable not to repeat it. Just put your food down and add a comment on how those experiences would have been difficult. The girl will appreciate the gesture and talk more. As one walks her back there needs to be a comment at recently-beautified New Jersey skies owing to pollution while touching her shoulders. One has to stay alert while watching TV. A local girl may be hesitant to get physically intimate due to living in the same neighborhood and their intertwined lives. The girl may just spend some time and leave, she may kiss and leave, may occasionally go further and a white girl is more likely to do that. It is important to support her advances with sweet compliments and suave replies.
After spending time together, the girl may want to wash up. One may imagine what her mother would think if she knew about their encounter. While she’s in the bathroom, one could call a friend to share their success or simply sit back and smile. Things however may not always go as planned. The girl might reject physical intimacy, and give a variety of reasons for the same. She may also reject one’s attempts at consolation and act as a stranger, behaving differently from how she usually would in school. She will lament over only a specific type of boy, that is the reader, asking her out. The girl will get ready and when her father arrives and honks the horn, she will leave without saying a proper goodbye, and one shouldn’t insist on it. Later one’s phone may ring, but it shouldn’t be answered. It is suggested to watch TV in your free time and avoid going downstairs and falling asleep as it is of no help. The reader must return the government cheese to its place before his mother gets upset.
How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie) | Analysis
According to academics, the text combines issues of race and ethnicity and can be read as a critique of how American society has failed to acknowledge or reconcile the nuances of Latinos’ ethnic and racial differences. The imagined interactions between the narrator-protagonist and a ‘browngirl,’ a ‘blackgirl,’ a ‘whitegirl,’ and a ‘halfie’ in ‘How to Date’ provide a lens through which to examine the formation of Dominican identity. His fictitious encounters mirror the societal power systems that Latinos/and other minorities are subjected to as the narrator provides specific advice (to an implied male reader) on how to behave when dating women from various racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Diaz’s story is a satirical look at a young Dominican American’s attempts to navigate a complex web of racial, ethnic, and sexual prejudices and expectations. It is presented as a step-by-step guidebook for dating ‘girls’ of various races or ethnicities. An intriguing perspective on Dominican-American identity politics that goes beyond the obvious contrast between ethnic unity and assimilation may be found in the narrator’s attempts to successfully ‘package’ himself for the girls he pursues. The story also reveals ‘lingering contradictions’ and pressures that continue to impede Dominican-American identity creation in the U.S. and the efforts to establish Diaz’s place in relation to the mainstream, even though the text in some ways moves beyond the essentialist identity politics of the past.
Scholars have also sought to highlight how as a representative of second-generation Dominicans, Diaz’s writing represents a shift in the style of Dominican literature produced in the United States and reflects the sociocultural changes that the community has undergone recently. The parodic aspect of many of Diaz’s stories frequently takes a backseat to their ‘negative’ thematic content. The youthful protagonist in Diaz’s story ‘How to Date’ paints a depressing picture of life in America that demystifies the ‘Dominican Dream’ by describing it as a hopeless dream. One of the effects of Dominican migration has been the challenging of a singular Dominican identity, which is frequently articulated in terms of the ‘Dominican Dream’ and has been restricted by official national discourse in the Dominican Republic.
The ‘Dominican Dream,’ or the Dominican equivalent of the ‘American Dream,’ frequently entails the immigrant’s prosperous return home upon the achievement of a higher status. This phenomenon results in an ‘endless cycle’, leading to more immigration and same-poverty stricken existence as in home countries. Diaz’s work signifies a departure from such a mystified experience and brings into focus the hard realities of immigrant lives in America.
Scholars have also noted the self-instructional nature of the text. The title of Diaz’s story implies that the narrator, who is eventually identified as Yunior in later stories of the collection, will speak with some experience and knowledge about dating various types of girls, a practice that is presumably complicated or confusing enough to call for an instruction manual. Ironically, the plot frequently highlights Yunior’s lack of training. The story is told in the second person, much like a conventional instruction manual, and is addressed to a ‘you’ who is intended to follow its instructions. Yunior is both the first person subject (the ‘I’ that speaks) and second person object of his speech, but he mostly addresses his instructions to himself.
The story makes him both the narrator and the object of narration.
How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie) | Themes
Race and ethnicity are the story’s central themes. Each girl’s subjectivity is overwhelmed by the title’s emphasis on her racial identity. The categories in the title allude to a more complex system of racial categorization that, despite going beyond the black/white binary, is constrictive in the sense that it lumps people together according to their race. Their identities are symbolically erased in the story by the lack of names and the narrative voice’s insistence on referring to his partners by racial epithets, which also contributes to their sexual objectification. On the other hand, it might be claimed that the story replicates the process by which the Dominican community has been marginalized by reducing girls to racial categories.
Therefore, a comical assessment of the function of stereotypes in American culture is another related and important element of the narrative. Each girl represents a certain place along the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic spectrum. The narrator also makes an effort to identify and position himself in each interaction to increase his chances of ‘scoring’ with each girl. Despite the overtly ‘provocative’ title, Diaz subtly exposes the limitations of stereotypes by depicting race and ethnicity as performative, temporary, and even purposeful roles that people take on or off depending on the circumstances. The protagonist’s decision to highlight or downplay specific aspects of his ethnic, racial, class, and gender identities challenges rigid ideas of identity and demonstrates that it may be situational and fluid.
Class politics is another crucial topic. Aware of the disparities in class, race, and ethnicity, the author turns every circumstance into a seduction formula. Every kind of distinction becomes a mere variable, a hindrance or potential benefit that he must take into account when predicting how various girls would respond to his ruses. The Terrace, the setting of the novel, is crucial to the progression of the narrative since every relationship between the characters is governed by a distinct class distinction that compares those who reside in his neighborhood against those who do not. The narrator decides to meet his dates at this spot, which is probably a reference to London Terrace, a low-income apartment block in Parlin, New Jersey. The neighborhood is portrayed in the narrative as an ethnic enclave with racial and ethnic tensions among its residents as well as poverty and crime. The experiential proximity (i.e. familiarity) or distance of each female to the Terrace and what it stands for in each scenario determines the likelihood of being intimate with the ‘browngirl,’ the ‘blackgirl,’ the ‘whitegirl,’ and the ‘halfie.’
How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie) | Title
The title ‘How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)’ seeks to convey the main topics of the narrative, which touch on dating, race, ethnic identity, and social expectations. It establishes the tone of the story and denotes the author’s purpose to make humorous comments on these subjects.
How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie) | Literary Devices
The text is written in the format of an instructional manual, therefore it extensively uses Apostrophes. The story is written in the second person, with the narrator addressing the reader directly. For example, the author constantly uses phrases such as,
‘Put down your hamburger and say, It must have been hard.’
‘Wait for your brother and your mother to leave the apartment. You’ve already told them that you’re feeling too sick to go to Union City…’
These are meant to create a conversational and personal tone in the text.
The text also uses satire. Frequently, it explains or suggests a particular action by referring to a serious event or memory in a casual tone.
For instance, when asking the reader to use funny stories to impress girls, he quotes,
‘Supply the story about the loco who’d been storing canisters of tear gas in his basement for years, how one day the canisters cracked and the whole neighborhood got a dose of the military-strength stuff. Don’t tell her that your moms knew right away what it was, that she recognized its smell from the year the United States invaded your island’
The story also uses irony to point out how individuals mold themselves to fit into certain roles, which are further used to impress other individuals cast in similar molds.
For instance, when referring to selecting a place to eat and to play when a girl may visit, the author comments that the reader will have choices, and then proceeds to list specific places that are best for girls from specific identities.
‘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.’
The story also uses symbolism. At the beginning itself, the author spends considerable words detailing how effectively the government cheese needs to be hidden depending on which locality a girl is visiting. The Government cheese which was probably bought at subsidized prices becomes reflective of the author’s class status, which has to be hidden from the girls he wishes to be closer to, especially if they are from better-off backgrounds.
‘Clear the government cheese from the refrigerator. If the girl’s from the Terrace stack the boxes behind the milk. If she’s from the Park or Society Hill, hide the cheese in the cabinet above the oven, way up where she’ll never see.’