All American Boys: the Tale of Judgement and Privilege

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Relations Between the Police and the Black in All American Boys
  • All American Boys and White Privilege
  • The Anxiety about American Culture's Future
  • Conclusion


As of the end of June 2018, 91 black individuals were killed by police officers. This number increases every day. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely is a novel that looks at police brutality from two perspectives: Rashad, who is unnecessarily beaten by a white police officer, and Quinn, who sees the beating, and initially pretends he didn’t. The police officer is Quinn’s best friend's older brother, and Quinn is torn on which side he believes. While Rashad is in the hospital, conflicts all over the school begin and Quinn decides to stand up for Rashad. All American Boys shows that people judge others based on their appearances. This theme appears not only in the book but in life too.

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The Relations Between the Police and the Black in All American Boys

Throughout the story, the theme that people judge others based on their appearance is consistently repeated throughout the story. Rashad’s father, David, has very enthusiastic opinions about what counts as responsibility and success. He has a great respect for police officers and military officers. His son, Spoony, is a bit of a failure to David because he has not chosen the role of an officer or a position that shows discipline and pride. “Why can’t you get a haircut? Why can’t you dress like a respectable adult? Why can’t you set an example for your brother?” (Reynolds and Kiely 52). On the other hand, Rashad takes on the role of an ROTC military student. When Rashad is later in the hospital, his father asks “Were you’re pants sagging?” (40). Because this is a stereotypical assumption for black people, Rashad gets offended that his dad assumed his pants were sagging. Later in the book, David reveals that when he was a cop, he shot a black man who he assumed was committing a crime. David assumed that he was committing a crime because of his skin color. This incident shows that the unfriendliness between black people and police officers is a structural issue. He judged someone based on their appearance.

All American Boys and White Privilege

In the story, Quinn’s white privilege allows him to escape from problems without consequences. For example, Quinn has admitted that he has stolen alcohol and smoked marijuana. Rashad, who has never smoked, done drugs, or stolen alcohol is portrayed as if he’s done all those things because he is a young black man. English Jones, one of Rashad’s friends, backed Rashad up by saying “Why does it automatically gotta be Rashad’s fault? Why do people think he was on drugs? That dude doesn’t do drugs. He’s ROTC, man. His dad would kick his ass” (176). Quinn assumed that because Rashad was black, he could’ve been taking drugs. Rashad is punished for simply the assumption that he steals. Rashad has been punished because of his appearances. Yet, because Quinn is white, he is not punished for what he has done because he is an “All American Boy” and nobody looks at him like they look at Rashad.

The Anxiety about American Culture's Future

The novel All American Boys indicated that it is worried about American culture and values. The setting of the book is located in Springfield, Illinois. Springfield is an average, American town. Over the years, Springfield has become increasingly diverse, like most other towns in America. Yet, it’s rate for black people killed has also gone up. In the book, Mrs. Erlich, Quinn’s trig teacher, wrote on the board “In the United States, in the seven year period ending in 2012, a white police officer killed a black person nearly two times a week” (254). In the middle of these changes, a lot of characters in the book want to live up to the ideal American. Both Quinn and Rashad live up to the form of an “All American Boy” in different ways. Quinn is the son of a soldier who risked his life to fight in Afghanistan, and Rashad is the son of an ex-police officer. The main incident in the book revolves around the fact that Rashad is not recognized as an “All American Boy”. Instead, he is seen as a “thug” and a “criminal”. In the story, the cash register assumed that Rashad was stealing. He said “ Yeah, he was trying to steal those chips! Isn’t that right? Isn’t that what you were trying to do? Isn’t that what you put in your bag?” (21). Rather than this being a reflection of Rashad’s qualities, this is purely based off his race and his appearance.


Throughout the novel, All American Boys, Jason Reynolds, and Brendan Kiely repeatedly show readers that people judge others based on their appearances. White peoples appearances allow them to escape consequences, people will commit an action based on their assumption, and people always assume things before asking the other person. This theme has been repeated throughout not only the novel but life too.                            

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