All American Boys: the Effect of Racism and Prejudice in the Real World

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Rashad Butler: Confronting Injustice in All American Boys
  • All American Boys: Battling Subconscious Racism
  • All American Boys and Its Contribution to Black Lives Matter
  • Conclusion


Racism and Prejudice is one of the most serious and pernicious situations in our world today. The novel All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is about two young men, Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins, one black and one white, whose lives are forever changed by an act of extreme police brutality. The novel definitely opens the reader's eyes to think about what people of different color might fear or go through in their lives. The novel also demonstrates how each race is being treated differently, mostly from police officers, they mainly have a bias towards their people (people of their ethnicity; white). Following this, prejudice and racism is one of the major themes throughout this novel. It doesn’t only affect Rashad’s life in the beginning of the book but it eventually starts to affect Quinn’s life as you get further into the book.

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Rashad Butler: Confronting Injustice in All American Boys

To begin, Rashad Butler is a 17-year-old African-American junior at Springfield Central High. Under pressure from his father, David, he participates in ROTC, although he does not particularly enjoy it. He loves art, hanging out with his best friend, Shannon, English and Carlos, and also enjoys dancing at parties. Rashad is however faced with a situation where is accused of shoplifting. “He shoved me through the door and slammed me to the ground. Face-fist, Hurt so bad the pain was color-white, a crunching sound in my ear as bones in my nose cracked.” (Reynolds 22). This is where our story begins, starting off with the violent arrest at Jerry’s convenience store. The novel shows how the attack shocks and disturbs the town of Springfield, while also emphasizing that this incident is representative of a broader problem of racist police violence that affects the entire country or world. “Nobody wanted to know the truth, even though everybody already knew what it was, I felt . . . violated. That’s the only way I can put it. Straight up violated.” (Reynolds 89). From this, Rashad was trying to hide his true feelings about how he felt about the situation, even though people understood, he still felt the need to hide the truth. For several of the characters, and Quinn particularly, the incident at Jerry’s serves as a wake-up call to the reality of racism in America. Crucially, it also extends beyond the particular issue of police brutality and into less severe manifestations of racism, such as the differential treatment of black students versus white students at Springfield High.

All American Boys: Battling Subconscious Racism

Furthermore, Quinn Collins is the other main character in the novel. He is a dutiful son to his mother and his older brother Willy, but sometimes he still gets into trouble, an example would be for stealing his mother’s bourbon. Quinn accidentally witnesses Rashad’s violent arrest at Jerry’s, and is left feeling confused and troubled by what he saw. His discomfort is magnified by the fact that Paul Galluzzo has served as a father figure to him ever since Quinn’s real father died in Afghanistan. “It was a good plan but when we got there, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had seen. I swear I thought about the guy on the ground, but mostly I thought about Paul, because Paul was Guzzo’s older brother, and after my own father died, Paul had basically been my older brother too.” (Kiley 40). Not only does the novel depict the different ways in which racism manifests itself in everyday life, it also explores the fundamental reasons that racism exists, showing how it can be perpetuated even by those who do not mean to cause harm. The novel indicates that police brutality is based on the psychological foundation of stereotypes, hypocrisy, and fear, which are exacerbated by the abuse of power and excessive authority. Quinn realizes that he harbors an irrational fear of black people based on the stereotypes that black people are tough violent “thugs.” Although he does not consciously harbor racist beliefs, his subconscious fear causes him to behave in a way that perpetuates racism. “Look, he said. People tell a lot of f**ked-up stories. People are talking about me. Well, I’m telling you this. There was a woman in the store. The kid took her down because she caught him stealing. I went in to protect her, and then he went after me, okay?” (Kiely 209). Quinn, meanwhile, who is celebrated as an “All-American Boy” whose father is a town hero, admits to having stolen alcohol from Jerry’s and smoked marijuana. While the novel doesn’t suggest that either of these acts is particularly unforgivable, it does show that Quinn’s white privilege allows him to escape from such misdemeanors without consequences, whereas Rashad is punished simply from the assumption that he steals. Racial stereotyping is thus revealed to be self-perpetuation, creating a vicious cycle of negative expectations, stereotypes, and brutality.

All American Boys and Its Contribution to Black Lives Matter

The novel was written in response to the death of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, two black teenagers who were shot and killed by white people who were not convicted of the murders. Martin was 17 (a year older than Rashad) and only carrying a bag of skittles when George Zimmerman shot him; the detail that Rashad is holding the bag of chips when he is arrested and beaten by Paul recalls Martin and the skittles. Mike Brown, meanwhile, was killed by a police officer while his hands were in the air. Again, this is linked to the brutality with which Paul treats Rashad even though he is unarmed and most importantly, innocent. The killings of Martin and Brown helped spark the Black Lives Matter Movement, which tackles the issues of anti-black racism, police brutality, and mass incarceration. ALL AMERICAN BOYS contributes to the ongoing conversation around those issues and highlights the way in which people are often at the forepoint of anti-racist activism in the contemporary movement.


Lastly, to conclude, racism and prejudice is not something that is being taken seriously in our lives today and it is not treated with the proper actions that should be taken. Rashad tries to find the strength to accept his role as a symbolic figure of the community’s response to police brutality, likewise, Quinn tries to decide where he belongs in a town bitterly divided by racial tension. Ultimately, the two narratives weave back together, in the moment in which the two boys, changed, can actually see each other, the first step for healing and understanding in a country still deeply sick with racial injustice. “As black man and a white man, both writers and educators, we came together to cowrite a book about how systemic racism and police brutality affect the lives of young people in America, in order to create an important, unique, and honest work that would give young people and the people who educate them a tool for talking about these difficult but absolutely vital conversations,” said Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiley. Caityln Dlouhy, Vice President, Editorial Director, Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, added, “Brendan and Jason have taken on one of the most fraught subjects in our history in a way that is fiercely brave and honest, and will change the way you think.”

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