Sample Essay

Words 1,430

The book begins with a recollection: “A long time ago I disappeared…. One day I was playing schoolgirl games with my sister and our friends in a Roxbury playground. The next I was a nobody, just a body without a name or a history, sitting beside my mother in the front seat of our car, moving forward on the highway, not stopping. (And when I stopped being nobody, I would become white ….  I disappeared into America, the easiest place to get lost. Dropped off, without a name, without a record. With only the body I traveled in. And a memory of something lost” (Senna, 1998)

In New Jersey their mother pretends to be the widow of a Jewish man, Birdie has to take up the false identity of ‘Jesse Goldman’, a Jewish girl.

“So that morning at the Wellington Diner in Maine, surrounded by the thick smoky scent of pine trees and the broad flesh of the country women, I was knighted a half-Jewish girl named Jesse Goldman, with a white mama named Sheila”  (Senna, 1998).

The Jewish identity is adopted because according to Sandy, “Jews weren’t really white, more like an off-white”. To Birdie, Jews are “the closest I was going to get to black and still stay white” (Senna, 1998).

This assimilation into the white society of New Hampshire is torturous to Birdie Lee, who wonders if she had actually turned into Jesse and it was actually her original ‘Birdie Lee’ that was a sham  (Senna, 1998). Birdie Lee’s successful ‘passing’ as ‘Jesse Goldman’ exposes ‘Whiteness’ to be a social construct. The primary characteristic of this ‘whiteness’, or its main utility to Sandy and Birdie Lee is that it allows a person to blend into the  society.

From Birdie Lee/ Jesse Goldman’s perspective, it is easy to see the way the white identity is constructed in America. The basic characteristic of ‘white’ identity is of course the color of the skin. If a person is just ‘lightly tanned’ they can pass off as Spanish (i.e. Iberian not of South American heritage) or Greek or Ashkenazi Jewish or the various other ethnicities that are considered to be within the spectrum of ‘white people’.



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