82 pages 2 hours read

Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2019

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Heterogenous Identity, Prejudice, and Roots

After returning from Spain and picking up Emma from daycare, Emoni encounters an “older white woman” on the bus who comments positively on her child (361-362). She asks if she is Emoni’s sister, but when Emoni reveals it is her daughter her attitude suddenly changes. Emoni reflects that she has met this kind of woman before. That is, “The kind that gets that gets sour-faced at learning Babygirl is my daughter, but who would have sympathy if I was of a paler complexion” (362). In other words, the woman has a stereotype about young mothers, but one that applies differently depending on whether the mother is Black or White. Of course, as Emoni admits, she is herself making a lot of assumptions about the woman in question. Nonetheless, her thought process reflects an experience of being held to different standards and being made to feel different than younger White mothers.

Prejudicial attitudes are not restricted to White or middle-class individuals. Emoni, who is Black but of mixed Puerto Rican and American descent, explains that she has often faced prejudice from Black and Hispanic groups for not “properly” belonging to their specific community. Malachi, when he first meets her, says, “I didn’t think you were Black-black […] your last name is Santiago, you’re light-skinned, and your hair’s wild curly.