At the sound of the front door closing, Furo raised both hands to stroke the sweat from his bristled scalp, and after dropping his hands to the bed to dry them, he tried to focus his mind on the problems that swelled before him. His father and his sister were obstacles he had to elude. Another hurdle was money. He had no money, not a kobo on him. He’d planned to ask his mother for the bus fare to the interview, but even if he’d dared to speak about it through the closed door, his father’s offer of a ride had quashed any chances of that succeeding. (It was impossible to accept, absurd to even think it, but there it was before his eyes, this skin colour that others were born into but he, Furo, had awoken to.) There was his sister, and he could try borrowing from her, but how to collect the money without facing her? No, too risky – he would have to walk. There was no time to eat, to bathe, to take chances. He had to leave now. There was no more denying what he was experiencing at this moment: he, Furo, son of a mother who knew his voice, was now a white man.
When I read the premise of A. Igoni Barrett’s novel, Blackass, I was immediately intrigued. What would I do if I woke up as a white woman? I would a) think I was mad; b) after realizing I was not mad, see if it would wash off; and c) after realizing I wouldn’t be able to wash it off, cry my eyes out. I have never, ever wanted to be white and would mourn the loss of my melanin, so I couldn’t wait to read this book and see what transpired.
The novel begins with Furo Wariboko, a young and unemployed Nigerian man, waking up to find that he has, overnight, become a white man. Not a light-skinned Nigerian, a full-blown white man with pale skin, red hair and green eyes. Except for a specific part of his body, hence the name of the book. It’s never really explained why Furo was changed, just like it was never explained why Gregor was transformed into an insect in Franz Kafka’s brilliant novel, The Metamorphosis. Thankfully, Barrett’s novel is not as dark as Kafka’s, but it is filled with thought-provoking and funny prose that takes us through Furo’s many experiences while he deals with this shocking change.
As Furo navigates his new self through the streets of Lagos, he is instantly met with stares by neighbors and friends, none who recognize him. It’s strange for the people on those streets to see an “oyibo” or a white person in their hood. Most openly gawk, point and yell “oyibo” at him as he makes his way to his interview. When he does talk to anyone, none believe he is a Nigerian, even though he speaks their language. Furo learns what it means to be a white man in Lagos, the good and the bad.
I absolutely loved this book for so many reasons. For starters, it was a great read. Mr. Barrett’s writing style is very fluid. The author painted a very clear picture of Furo’s experiences as he dealt with his new identity, as well as the city of Lagos itself. I could see and hear the honking of the cars in Lagos’ famous traffic jams. I laughed at the Nigerians who openly taunted Furo and called him “oyibo” at every turn and felt annoyance at the ones who kissed his ass for being a white man. Mr. Barrett’s descriptions of Lagos and its people were very thorough but not in that overly wordy way some authors use to fill pages. What I found most compelling was the lengths Furo went to in order to avoid his family. His struggle with this was frustrating and heartbreaking at the same time. How do you face your family in a situation like Furo’s? Since I am so close to my family, I kept thinking to myself that I would show them right away. But would I? Would I be able to show my mother and father my pale skin? Would I be able to show anyone I know my new face? I have no idea.
I highly recommend Blackass, especially to readers of color. While reading this amazing novel, think about what you would do in Furo’s situation. The answer may surprise you.