YA fiction: Growing up black in the US

From Dear Martin to Punching the Air – novels that prove the country is problematic

Yusef Salaam, one of the five boys once known as the Central Park Five. Photograph: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Yusef Salaam, one of the five boys once known as the Central Park Five. Photograph: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

There are two Americas, the novels tell me. There’s the land of the free, the land of hope and opportunity. And then there’s the land of fear, of moving through the world terrified – rightly so because stepping outside of your box puts you at risk.

At best, the threat is merely one of social judgment; at worst, you will end up dead at the hands of a police officer who will almost certainly escape punishment for it. To grow up black in the United States is to be under constant scrutiny and suspicion, to be penalised harshly for the crimes the white kids get a slap on the wrist for. There are two Americas: one sees the unfairness and the other doesn’t.

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