The Jacket

11May10

by Andrew Clements

In the Jacket, a sixth grade boy named Phil gains a new perspective and awareness of the racial situation in his town, and becomes more cognizant of his own possible prejudices. One day while running late to school, he sees the back of his brother’s jacket and runs to catch up with him to give him his lunch money. To his surprise, it is not his little brother inside of this jacket, but instead an African American boy around his brother’s age. Phil immediately accuses this boy of stealing his jacket from his little brother, and an altercation ensues and the school’s administration intervenes.

Upon further investigation, it is uncovered that the his mother had given the jacket to their family’s cleaning lady, and that cleaning lady happened to be the African American boy’s grandmother. Phil realizes he jumped to conclusions about this situation, and wonders what part subconscious racial prejudices played in how quickly he jumped to conclusions.

This heightened sensitivity caused Phil to see with fresh eyes: “But walking home by himself this particular Thursday afternoon, Phil felt like he’d never seen this part of the city before. Everywhere he looked, he saw white people” (33). Phil’s thoughts also think about the idea of someone looking like the belong somewhere, and how race and attire help formulate these types of assumptions. Very disturbed that he feels like he has been living in ignorance of these prejudices, he talks to his mom and tries working through these overwhelming feelings he is having.  Phil’s thoughts are set-off throughout the book through the use of italics. For example, “And he thought, This morning, what if Daniel had been a white kid? Would I have grabbed him like that? If he had looked like he belonged in that jacket, would I have said he stole it?”

Interestingly, Clements even integrates modern technology that I think helps to date the book in contemporary times. After getting Daniel’s home phone number from Daniel’s grandmother, he uses the  internet to type Daniel’s phone number into a reverse lookup website that tells the address . Phil sets out to Daniel’s house to give him the jacket back and clear the area. As he is on his way, Daniel again realizes that beyond past the bad part of town, there are other neighborhoods. Phil realizes that Daniel lives in a house almost exactly like his own – in fact, “Same house, only different people. And practically the same neighborhood, too!” (74)

In the ninth grade, I changed from a predominantly white school to a predominantly  African American school to attend an academic program. This experience was formative for me and helped me realize the disparities between the neighborhoods in my own community. I could relate the hypersensitivity that Phil was feeling towards the race issue. It is through mutual understanding and dialogue that we can help to alleviate these racial tensions in our communities and have critical conversations about how subconscious prejudices affect our daily interactions.  The Jacket is a provoking way for young people and adults to start a dialogue about race and prejudice issues.

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