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Honky Book Report

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Minority Autobiography Analysis

(Book Report)

Title: Honky

Author: Dalton Conley

Summary

"Honky" is the true story of Dalton Conley, a white kid, growing up in a minority community. The story takes place beginning at the end of the 1960's and concluding in the early 1980's and takes us from the authors early childhood to college. Dalton Conley was white, with a Jewish mother and an Irish/English father.

Both of Dalton's patents were artists. His mother, Ellen, grew up in northern Pennsylvania, the daughter of a dentist, and was a graduate of Penn State University. She was active in the civil rights movement in the early sixties and later spent time in Haiti as a volunteer. She is probably best described as somewhat of a "Flower child." Dalton's father, Steve, grew up in Connecticut with moderately wealthy parents. He attended college at a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin but never graduated. During his junior year, his father lost his job and business and could no longer afford the tuition.

Dalton's parents were the starving artist type and lived in a tenement in Manhattan. The apartment was in a crime-ridden area and they were robbed several times. The last time they were robbed Daltons mother was able to identify the thief and have him arrested. The thief threatened to kill the entire family upon his release so they decided to move. They applied for and were accepted into a new housing project, The Masaryk Towers, which was largely Black and Hispanic.

Living in a predominately minority community and Dalton has no concept of race early on. When told his mother is pregnant he is almost three and completely unaware that both his parents being white will result in a white child.

Dalton experiences being a minority among minorities and sees first hand how the cultural differences affect society. Living in a minority area, he attends predominantly a black school where he learns of some differences between the cultures. In school finds, he is the only student who cannot be disciplined with corporal punishment because black teachers are fearful of striking a white child and his parents are steadfastly against it.

Dalton's parents use some connections and the address of a friend to have him transferred to a mostly white school after a child molester is caught castrating boys in the bathroom of his school. There he learns what it is like to be white and finds the popular kids are those with the richest parents. Dalton finds himself in a unique spot in his new school because even though he is white, he is poor. On days, he sleeps at a friend's house he is unable to buy snacks after school the way his white friends do. He decides he needs money to fit in and takes a job in a local store but is fired because of labor laws relating to minors.

Dalton had considered himself a member of both the white school he attended and the minority neighborhood in which he lived. That image was challenged when he realized he was embarrassed to bring his white friend to his house and when his baseball glove was stolen at knifepoint and his neighborhood friends did little to help. This was the point he realized he was an outsider in both worlds.

Dalton spent his summers in middle class Pennsylvania camping near his grandparents house. Both he and his sister hated this but knew they were getting to do things their neighborhood peers could only dream about. Dalton and his sister had a difficult time making friends during the summer because they were city kids and the PA kids were rural.

When Dalton is about twelve, he becomes friends with a boy names Jerome who lives in his neighborhood. Jerome is the only other boy in his neighborhood who attends his school predominantly white school. He is the type of kid who is liked by all, accepted by both the white and black population. About a year, after they become friends Jerome is shot by a stray bullet and becomes paralyzed. Dalton has trouble dealing with this and ultimately becomes obsessive compulsive having to do everything in two's for fear of bad luck.

Dalton and Jerome drift apart and Dalton becomes good friends with another classmate named Raphael. He is Latino, lives near the school and his parents have money. Dalton and Raphael accidentally set fire to Raphael's apartment playing a game with matches. Both kids were found to blame for the incident and neither was punished severely. Dalton knows this would have been different if he had been black and the fire had been in one of the tenements near his home.

When Jerome had been shot, Dalton's mother had placed their name on a waiting list for low-income housing in Roosevelt Long Island and just before Dalton enters high school, the family moves. Dalton is puzzled as to why they were given the housing instead of one of his neighbors and finds his parents being artists played a big role.

Dalton had been accepted into a quality, public school known for its academics where he makes friends with the kids of working class families who commuted great distances, as he once did, to school. After high school, he leaves his family, moves to San Francisco, and attends Berkley. After college, he returns to New York, lives in Manhattan just a few miles from where he grew up, and is a professor at Yale.

Theoretical Application

Dalton's experiences growing up reflect many of the theories we covered during class. Early on he has little concept of what race is and considers himself part of the neighborhood in which he is growing up. Everyone around him is either Black or Latino but this is perfectly normal to him.

While Dalton is growing up, he experiences marginality. He is a White, Jewish kid and as such, receives many privileges associated with that. On the other hand, he lives in a minority community and experiences, to some extent, the problems associated with being a minority.

When Dalton is almost three years old, his mother is pregnant. Dalton is very excited and cannot wait for his new sibling to arrive. Unable to contain his enthusiasm he kidnaps a Black baby and brings her to his mother while playing at the playground. His mother is understandably upset and quickly returns the baby to her mother and apologized profusely. The mother of the baby happens to be a member of a separatist organization, who lives in the same building and on the same floor as Dalton's family. She is also upset but merely glares at Dalton's mother with contempt. This incident would have probably been dismissed

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