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“’Settling Into Your Skin’: What Eric Garcia’s Dinosaurs Teach Us About Race”

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Abstract:

In Eric Garcia’s three-volume detective series, the chief investigator is none other than a velociraptor disguised as a human, Vincent Rubio. Indeed, the principal conceit of the series is that dinosaurs are not extinct. Although dinosaurs have not been eradicated as once believed, they must wander the world concealing their dinosaur identities beneath human guises. Though they be dinosaurs, they must live as if they were humans. But as Kwame Anthony Appiah has recently asserted to “live as” X does not always mean to introduce an identity as X. Dragging in human disguises, that is, allows these dinosaurs to “pass” for human, but it does not give them a human identity per se. And if living as X does not necessarily grant one an identity as X, it also forecloses, in the case of these mysteries, the possibility to live fully as one’s masked identity. The mask itself (the human drag) endangers the very possibility of being dinosaur. Or as one of one dinosaur character avers, “Every day we put on these costumes is another day we lose part of ourselves” (CR 47). These dinosaurs in human drag, I contend, precisely allegorize the construction of racial identities in the United States. Indeed, I argue that Garcia’s novels instruct us well on the stakes of forging and masking one’s identity and offer us a compelling opportunity to investigate the purchase racial identities hold in the late-twentieth and early-twenty first centuries, a time when not only are dinosaurs supposed to be extinct, but race as a scientific category is as well.
Although the ludic nature of dinosaurs guised as humans is a tantalizing narrative seduction, it works as more than just a gimic. While readers likely laugh at the craziness of Garcia’s novels, the irrationality of the United States’ racial caste system provokes no laughter. Although race is, no doubt, a biological fiction, the material effects of racism—salary disparities, divided neighborhoods, gated communities, etc.—are not. These effects of racism lead many to embrace race as a scientific category. In short, if racism exists, there must be race. While racial categories are as preposterous as the premise that dinosaurs roam the world in human drag, that is, they are infrequently seen as ludicrous.
Nevertheless, I contend that the outrageous, unscientific, utterly irrational premise that underwrites the comic conceit of Garcia’s novels is the very same premise that should lead us to look awry at the division of the human species into races that, while also unscientific, many, conservatives and radicals alike, embrace as real. Hence the outrage over Paul Gilroy’s Against Race (2000), a book that, while admittedly tendentious, only proposes that we not embrace race as a scientific category. For in doing so, we unwittingly endorse the racist hierarchy that racial taxonomies underwrite. If we step back momentarily from this investment in race, we see how Garcia’s allegory educates us in the dangers of race and the travails and joys of what Jonathan Lethem as described as “settling into one’s skin.”
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Name: American Studies Association
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MLA Citation:

Rodriguez, Ralph. "“’Settling Into Your Skin’: What Eric Garcia’s Dinosaurs Teach Us About Race”" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, Oct 12, 2006 <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p114195_index.html>

APA Citation:

Rodriguez, R. , 2006-10-12 "“’Settling Into Your Skin’: What Eric Garcia’s Dinosaurs Teach Us About Race”" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association <Not Available>. 2013-12-16 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p114195_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: In Eric Garcia’s three-volume detective series, the chief investigator is none other than a velociraptor disguised as a human, Vincent Rubio. Indeed, the principal conceit of the series is that dinosaurs are not extinct. Although dinosaurs have not been eradicated as once believed, they must wander the world concealing their dinosaur identities beneath human guises. Though they be dinosaurs, they must live as if they were humans. But as Kwame Anthony Appiah has recently asserted to “live as” X does not always mean to introduce an identity as X. Dragging in human disguises, that is, allows these dinosaurs to “pass” for human, but it does not give them a human identity per se. And if living as X does not necessarily grant one an identity as X, it also forecloses, in the case of these mysteries, the possibility to live fully as one’s masked identity. The mask itself (the human drag) endangers the very possibility of being dinosaur. Or as one of one dinosaur character avers, “Every day we put on these costumes is another day we lose part of ourselves” (CR 47). These dinosaurs in human drag, I contend, precisely allegorize the construction of racial identities in the United States. Indeed, I argue that Garcia’s novels instruct us well on the stakes of forging and masking one’s identity and offer us a compelling opportunity to investigate the purchase racial identities hold in the late-twentieth and early-twenty first centuries, a time when not only are dinosaurs supposed to be extinct, but race as a scientific category is as well.
Although the ludic nature of dinosaurs guised as humans is a tantalizing narrative seduction, it works as more than just a gimic. While readers likely laugh at the craziness of Garcia’s novels, the irrationality of the United States’ racial caste system provokes no laughter. Although race is, no doubt, a biological fiction, the material effects of racism—salary disparities, divided neighborhoods, gated communities, etc.—are not. These effects of racism lead many to embrace race as a scientific category. In short, if racism exists, there must be race. While racial categories are as preposterous as the premise that dinosaurs roam the world in human drag, that is, they are infrequently seen as ludicrous.
Nevertheless, I contend that the outrageous, unscientific, utterly irrational premise that underwrites the comic conceit of Garcia’s novels is the very same premise that should lead us to look awry at the division of the human species into races that, while also unscientific, many, conservatives and radicals alike, embrace as real. Hence the outrage over Paul Gilroy’s Against Race (2000), a book that, while admittedly tendentious, only proposes that we not embrace race as a scientific category. For in doing so, we unwittingly endorse the racist hierarchy that racial taxonomies underwrite. If we step back momentarily from this investment in race, we see how Garcia’s allegory educates us in the dangers of race and the travails and joys of what Jonathan Lethem as described as “settling into one’s skin.”

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