Discussion: “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)”, Junot Diaz

Please use the following questions as a starting point for your response to the Junot Diaz story “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)”. You don’t need to answer all of the questions, or even answer any of them in full, but please keep your response focused and relevant.

  • How is second person narration operating in this story? Do you read the speaker as a narrator talking to Yunior, or as Yunior talking to himself? What difference does this make, if any?
  • What effect does the “instructional” style of the story have?
  • This is a story that dwells in the conditional tense, exploring possible future situations (ie, ‘If the girl is such-and-such, do this. If she’s not, do that,’ or ‘If you run into Howie, this is what will happen’) instead of clear action in the present tense. How does Diaz keep us grounded in a story that doesn’t exactly have what we might conventionally call scenes?
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15 thoughts on “Discussion: “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)”, Junot Diaz

  1. “To Date A Brown Girl” is an instructional guide that walks the reader through their first date with a girl, and how her race dictates how he should act and what he should expect to get out of the date. A satirical piece, it is written in second person narration, so that the narrator of the story is talking directly to the reader. The second narration makes the tone of the story like that of a conversation. In conversation, it is much easier to suggest subtle racial attitudes. The narrator is addressing the reader as if they are fully aware of all the culture attitudes present in the context of his date, so when he brings them up, it is not explicitly. This allows the reader to catch the undertones in her instructions. There are also misogynistic undertones that come about as a consequence of the 2nd person narration.

    The instructional style of the story is of course not a consequence of the 2nd person narration but a literary choice by Diaz. Having the story be told as a guide speaks toward the idea that this is an individual sharing advice means that all the undertones in the story are consequences of cultural attitudes and opinions that individuals are subject to.

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  2. I read the story as being the main character talking to himself, prepping himself for the night. Usually, I feel as if second person does not work because it ends up feeling a little like an R.L Stine, you decide the ending book, but for some reason it felt like it worked here. It may have been because of how much in the head of the teen we are, and it makes us feel that same apprehension and questioning that comes with not having experience with girls. The way that he divorces himself from the story by not using I, makes it so that it feels normal, like this is what you(all) do when a certain event happens and it makes it feel so definite; both of which make the themes of insecurity and racial tension rise to the surface even more. When it seems like he is assuring himself of what one does in a certain situation it makes him feel normal, while the small details in every instance contradict that same idea- and show how not normal and alien he feels because of his race and surroundings. This also works because as instructional as the piece is, there is still a strong narrative- maybe not in the sense that we know exactly what is happening as it happens, or the plot unravels, but the details of the boys condition begin to show, and it puts what he is saying into perspective. It is him showing up, not telling us, how he feels about his situation; except that he is too young, or not self-aware enough, or doesn’t care, to know just how much of his own story he is putting out with the little details that entrench you in his family’s emotional nuanced narrative. To me, the exposition in this piece was what carried it throughout, along with humor, and a subtle way to look at the all too familiar theme of exclusion and pre-pubescence.

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  3. When I read this story, I thought of the speaker as someone talking to Yunior. I envisioned the narrator as one of his friends. I think that it does make a difference in how readers interpret the story. In my opinion, it totally changes the way the reader sees Yunior. My thinking of the narrator as a friend, I see Yunior as a shy guy who asked his friend for advice on a girl. If I were to have read it as Yunior talking to himself, it would totally change my perception of him. I would think of him as a self-confident man talking himself through his plans with this girl. Maybe it’s a blind date because he didn’t know what race she was.

    The style gave me the feeling of someone talking at me, telling me what to do. The instruction with regards to telling Yunior what restaurant to go to depending on where the girl comes from gave me the sense that Yunior was going on his first date.

    I liked the way Diaz left the situation open-ended. It’s not a story of what happened, instead it’s a story of what could happen. The realm of possibility is infinite and fantastical. There are no hard and fast rules because these characters are using their imagination to think up the events of the future. I think this is a skillful way to tell a story and I enjoyed the read.

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  4. The second person view point makes this story seem like Yunior is telling you what to do when you are dating a girl. It seems that he is either writing this as a how-to guide, or verbally passing information to another young man. The instructional or “guidebook” style of writing makes this seem like he is explaining how to date and, with what seems to be, personal examples from his own experience. The personal examples of putting the cheese in the cabinets, and the Spanish flare that is throughout the story, makes it more interesting than some regular guide book that any guy would read. It makes it funny and more like a performance than a “such and such” situation book.

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  5. First off, I’d just like to say that Junot Diaz’s “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)” is a piece that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. It is one that is both quirky and interesting and it manages to stay interesting throughout the whole thing. This piece incorporates what can only be described, as an “instructional” writing style and it is vital to what makes the piece so great. Due to the fact that Diaz chose to form his work as these hypothetical instructions, the narration is presented to us in the second person. After reading the piece closely, I have reached the conclusion that the speaker of this piece is definitely a narrator who is giving these instructions to the character Yunior, as opposed to Yunior himself being the speaker. I would even go as far to say that the narrator is someone who has a very close relationship with Yunior, based on the incredibly informal and casual way of speaking to him. It’s almost as if the speaker is a more sexually experienced friend of Yunior’s and is simply giving him advice on how to proceed. This distinction of the speaker’s identity is incredibly important to the piece as a whole because it establishes a more lighthearted tone for the piece. By looking at this piece as someone receiving advice from a friend it actually becomes quite humorous because we are given a glimpse at the interactions between two people who clearly have a strong friendship, which in turn causes an association between this piece and the positive feelings that come from contemplating friendship. On the other side of this, if a reader was to interpret the speaker of this piece as Yunior talking to himself, I believe they would naturally interpret it as a much darker and almost depressing work of fiction. Under the context of Yunior being the speaker, the readers are shown the deep insecurities of a young and sexually inexperienced person, who has to tell himself an entire monologue just to mentally prepare himself for simply hanging out with a girl. In my opinion a story of someone reciting a speech to themselves is significantly less interesting then that of a story where someone comes to the aid of a friend in need, but that’s just my interpretation.

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  6. By Samuel Antezana

    I loved this story. I found the “instructional” nature of this story to sound very familiar, it reminded me of movies like “Do The Right Thing” and “Juice,” movies based in inner cities where the less fortunate have a different way of life than do many of us. The way the boy goes about his business, very routinely, and describes the different girls he is with was actually hilarious to me. I grew up with a variety of friends, but many of mine were minorities, in particular I had a lot of Black and Latino friends, which all had different ways of speaking. However, one thing we all shared was slang and the way of speaking (Ebonics). We would recite lines from our favorite gangster movies and rappers. This story reminds me of moments like that, when we kids used to have a different perspective on the world and the way things ran. The way this Dominican boy talks about his life and what he has to deal with (and how he deals with it) is fascinating because of how mechanical and natural it is to him. To many others, the way he thinks about women or the way he goes about the odd things he does, is weird. However, this is satirical because it is looking at the way of life of other less fortunate people (such as some minorities) and the way they view other people of color. The author turns this on it’s head in a way because it makes you wonder why the things the boy does or thinks are any different from the way you think or do things in a routing fashion.

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  7. When I read this story I read the narration as Yunior talking to me and telling me to put myself in his situation and I also read it as Yunior talking to himself. I think the fact that Diaz’s piece can make me feel and understand both perspectives is what makes the piece so powerful. I think that technically Yunior is mentally preparing himself for a sort o ritual he goes through a lot and he talks himself through the ideal situation and the reality. What the reader ends up getting from this rundown is the ability to put themselves in Yunior’s position and understand what this desire to be with some, especially a white girl, is like for him and maybe others where he lives. I felt as if I were running through the motions and not just watching Yunior in my mind as I read. It’s important to have both of these aspects in mind while reading because it gives us the chance to see Yunior running through these actions and it allows us to do the same and possibly envision ourselves running it through and trying our luck.
    The instructional style of the story creates a sort of detachment from Yunior. Yes, Yunior is speaking from experience so we know how he does it but the detachment allows us to consider that maybe others like Yunior go through the same situation when trying to get lucky with a girl. Instructional implies there’s a set code and way to go about getting a girl to spend time with you and following these standards is how it will always go. Not only does the instructional tone make these steps more universal, but it also does let us get to know Yunior better. From hearing Yunior speak this dialogue in an instructional way we understand that Yunior has done this before and the outcome seems to be the same every time. The routine of it becomes a little tired and we start to pick up on the hints of his self-resentment in between the lines of him telling us how to get a girl and ultimately find happiness in the result.

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  8. (Josh Tan)

    The story read as it was coming from Yunior, and that he was not necessarily instructing an audience, but telling himself what to do. As if there was a huge sample size of his dates, and he has accumulated the knowledge from them to know what to do for so many situations. Despite it reading like this, and not necessarily meant as a direct instructional, it can still be taken as an instructional story. Throughout the story he has so many conditional “If this happens, do this” scenarios. It grew tiresome after a while, due to the repeated use of similar language. One part that stuck out to me was the ending, when it felt as though there was a confirmation that he never really succeeded in his endeavors, as he said the girl will usually not want to kiss you. It’s interesting to have it conclude with an ending that implies failure.

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  9. The use of second person in this story creates an interesting effect because usually when second person is used, it addresses the reader and thus assumes this kind of universal character for the addressee. However, in Diaz’s narrative, the situation and environment of the story feel very specific to Yunior, making it feel like the reader is at once identified with and alienated from the main character.

    The instructional nature of the story creates this system within the narrative that almost makes it feel like Yunior’s life can be reduced to an algorithm. That is to say, what this story excels at is presenting a world where people’s interactions with the environment and others can be viewed as a space dominated by a ubiquitous array of forking paths at every turn. Every action requires decision and has consequences, and these consequences and decisions are all that anyone can focus on, so that even romantic engagements feel impersonal.

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  10. In my opinion, this is the first time the 2nd person narrative voice has resonated with me. I enjoyed reading in this voice because I could understand the character so well. I relocated to new Jersey for over 6 months at the beginning of this year, so I could picture this neighborhood and imagine Yunior’s struggle.

    To me it read as though Yunior was talking to himself from prior experience but also as if he could have been talking to any other teenage latino guy in similar circumstances. I liked that the story was instructional. I appreciate this because I can now see myself writing personal experiences in this 2nd person narrative style.

    I believe the different possible future events only made the story more realistic and showed the voice narrating definitely had experience in this matter. I liked how this story took a different approach to discuss race and understanding what the narrator’s experiences teach him about society.

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  11. I read this story as the speaker talking to the reader, but recalling specific experiences that he himself had encountered. Perhaps the speaker had originally intended on giving genuine dating advice, but became wrapped up in his own personal experiences and turned it into more of a personal narrative, while still using the second person. This made it feel like this was somewhat of a routine for him. He has tried to date so many girls and knows how things will go down depending on where the girl comes from. It seems that he has accepted the possible outcomes, even if that outcome is failure.

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  12. I found the story “How to Date a Brown Girl” to be a very entertaining read. The use of the second person in this story gives it a very conversational feel which is different and refreshing to read. However, the reader can still tell that the details of the story are also very tailored to fit Yunior’s experiences. The way Yunior talks about different girls, such as the difference between how a “local girl” will act as opposed to how a white girl from a different area will act, seem to be drawn from all his experience with many of these girls. It seems that the title says “date a brown girl” because at some point, all the white girls or foreign girls or black girls that he’s gone on dates with all mix together at some point and just make brown. I enjoyed how the story was posed so hypothetically, as it gave the impression that Yunior has his dating of girls down to a science and would consider all these aspects when perhaps giving a friend advice on girls, which is how this piece is written as.

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  13. Based on the experiences detailed in the instructions such as Howie coming from behind with his dogs, I felt that the second-person narration was Yunior talking to his future self based on a format his dates seem to go. It could have also have been from someone who lives in the same neighborhood, goes to the same school, has the same heritage, and actually knows details of Yunior’s life such as his brother thinking mixed couples saying it was radical for them to be together was Uncle Tomming. A funny little thing the narration did to me was put me into Yunior’s body for a bit, which felt weird. Second-person narration in an instructional format was different for me, different from the second-person I’ve seen before at the least. The instructions have their own implications, like when told not to do something, that action would be offensive or screw up the date in some way. The thing with the conditionals in this story, was that there were a lot of different variables and there were multiple universes splitting off at different points and running concurrently. Instead of events, the story has effects and those effects have effects of their own, like a chain reaction with a path that diverges at multiple points and in multiple ways.

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  14. The story “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)” by Junot Diaz makes excellent use of second person narration. The way that the story presents the narration it feels as though Yunior is talking to himself reminding himself what to do before he has his big date or a potential big date. The way he methodically goes through the list, has contingency plans, for different situations for girls of different races really hammers in the instructional tone the story has going for it. One of the things I really liked about the way this instructional tone and list nature worked in the story was that it was able to tell the audience a lot about his character and his background without the story having to gone into long dips of exposition. The details revealed about him were placed naturally within the story and the way in which they were revealed made it seem as though there never was too much revealed. A lot about Yunior’s character is left to be unknown or to be figure d out through the texts implications. The way the instructions are done give it a sort of “Dating for dummies” feel. I think it is interesting that the story ends on a note of failure with Yunior last scenario ending up with him all alone in the end. Diaz does an excellent job evoking that somber tone that sort of simply accepts the reality as it is.

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  15. I read this piece as almost like an instruction manual for Yunior, given to him by some omnipotent force from above that knows everything there is to know about everything. The title itself almost contradicts itself. It’s called how to date a brown girl, but then says this advice will work for a white girl or black girl or halfie. That’s like almost all of the types of girls there are. This in itself is funny. It’s also funny how this advice is potentially terrible, and that’s acknowledged in the story with the date not working out. It seems as if Yunior has been down this path before, with these exact specifics. What I like about the narration is that it states everything as a fact – there is no room for argument. This is the correct advice. It makes it seem like Yunior really believes he is always doomed to fail and is stuck in his methods.

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