Why Race Matters in Dalton Conley’s memoir, Honky
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Why Race Matters in Dalton Conley’s memoir, Honky
           In my estimation, White Americans are widely deemed to belong to the majority, but the situation is different for Dalton Conley in his memoir, Honky. He documents his journey to maturity as he grows up in a white family amongst Latinos and African Americans in New York from the 1970s to the 80s. Besides being white, Conley’s middle-class but impoverished background adds to his distinctiveness. He even compares his childhood to “a social experiment” intended to “find out what being middle-class really means by raising a kid from a so-called good family in a so-called bad neighborhood” (Conley, 2000). From this unique standpoint, Conley reflects on how race, and to some extent, class impact his life as a white boy in this neighborhood. In my view, he shows that race matters because it is a means of social division, favors some communities over others, and helps to navigate life changes.
Importance of Race
I think that race is one of the bases for grouping people into social classes. Conley’s elementary school admission further elaborates how race plays a role in social stratification (Taylor et al., 2019). For instance, the principal requests that Conley’s mother enrolls him in the African American, Chinese, or Puerto Rican class because a white class is nonexistent (Conley, 2000). His mother chooses the black class. Hence, Conley (2000) concludes, “The choices our race gave us were made quite explicit — by a government institution, no less” (p. 44). In my opinion, this case illustrates race as a mode of classification, with the school being the agent of categorizing students according to their racial affiliations. 
Conley also discovers the race-class link when studying at P.S. 41 – another elementary learning institution in the high-end area of Greenwich Village – but still residing in the housing projects. He becomes more aware of his white identity and even perceives himself as superior to his inferior Latino and black neighbors. Conley (2000) admits, “I … was developing a sense of superiority over my . . . neighbors. This quiet sense of snobbery was a way of displacing my sense of class inadequacy onto people who I now see as being lower down the ladder than me” (p. 80). Thus, I believe that he begins seeing race as a means of classification, with Whites being in a higher social rank than Hispanics and African Americans. 
Furthermore, I note that race perpetuates class distinctions even in middle school – Intermediate School 70. Conley highlights, “Academic tracking reproduced, to some extent, the larger society’s hierarchy of race and class” (Conley, 2000, p. 133). The low (vocational) classes comprise more significant numbers of non-White learners than the high (academic) courses (Taylor et al., 2019). Despite being white, Conley associates with minority students, who, unlike their wealthier white counterparts, cannot afford expensive meals. He highlights that they “sat inside, eating our federally subsidized hot lunches, while the Village kids went to the local shops for food” (Conley, 2000, p. 133). Consequently, Conley is assigned to the seemingly inferior group but is happy to reconcile his experiences of both social classes: “Being in the lower track gave me a touch of coolness that I had never experienced; . . . the two halves of my life, it seemed, were finally being sewn back together” (Conley, 2000, p. 170). In my assessment, the author shows that schools may foster racism at the institutional level and unequal rather than equal opportunity.
I observe that Conley has trouble embracing race-based divisions upon entering Stuyvesant High School. He desires to return home, where he feels more comfortable despite being different: “I paced in circles like a closed-up laboratory animal, wishing I were back in our old neighborhood, where at least I had my skin color to blame for not fitting in” (Conley, 2000, p. 214). In addition, Conley makes friends with students from other ethnicities and nationalities, which I perceive as part of his acculturation attempts. He affirms, “…the friends I had crossed ethnic and national boundaries” (Conley, 2000, p. 219). I think that at some point, Conley’s heightened awareness of the racial divide between him and his Latino and African American companions enhances his sense of racial superiority and their inferiority (Taylor et al., 2019). However, I note that as he matures, he cannot isolate himself and limit interactions with his race as might be expected of him.
In my estimation, race engenders white privilege. I see that Conley’s white racial background gives him certain advantages that are inaccessible to the adjoining black and Hispanic households (Taylor et al., 2019). He notes, “I enjoyed a range of privileges that were denied my neighbors but that most Americans take for granted” (Conley, 2000, p. xi). For instance, Conley mentions that, unlike his family, African Americans and Hispanics lack the option of relocating to a better and white-dominated residential area. He states that his parents could have decided to “move to a white, working-class neighborhood in the outer boroughs or in New Jersey. . . . Our neighbors, by contrast, were largely unwelcome elsewhere for reasons of race and financial status” (Conley, 2000, p. 9). Therefore, in my evaluation, Conley reveals the practice of residential segregation on racial grounds and the favoritism shown to whites compared to Latinos and Blacks.
           I think that at school, Conley notices the differential and preferential treatment accorded to his race. Unlike his African American classmates, he escapes corporal punishment despite misbehaving. Conley (2000) states, “I even tried to get into fights in that school, fights I knew I would lose; I wanted to feel the relief of being struck” (p. 46). The school treats Conley as they believe his [white] parents would do. They would spare him from a beating when he acts mischievously. The principal tells Conley’s mother, “We know that white parents spoil their kids so [his teacher] doesn’t strike Dalton” (Conley, 2000, p. 49). I believe that this instance presents race as a justification for the unequal sanctions given to white and black children for their misconduct.
I perceive that as a further demonstration of Conley’s privileged status as white, the school administration goes as far as permitting him to choose his punishment. They offer him the option of joining the Chinese pupils rather than receiving a spanking like his African American peers. His mother selects the latter

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