Under the Gaze: Learning to Be Black in White Society


144 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-895686-21-0
DDC 371.829'96071




Reviewed by Nanette Morton

Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University.


Jennifer Kelly interviewed several high-school students for this book in
order to “illustrate how a specific group of young African-Canadians
living in Edmonton, Alberta, socially construct themselves as
‘Blacks.’” Although the dominant society in which the students
live officially insists on its color blindness, it also simultaneously
marginalizes this group by attaching negative meanings to its perceived
cultural and physical differences. Young African-Canadians must cope
with these negative constructions even as they themselves attempt,
through social interaction, to develop a sense of themselves as
individuals and as black people.

In one of the most interesting chapters in the book, interviewees
discuss how young people accept, reject, or otherwise experiment with
black identities presented by the media. Young African-Canadians often
identify with films about racism experienced by African-Americans. While
they use the media as a source of knowledge, however, black youths are
critical of both the stereotypes presented by the mainstream media and
the sexism and violence of some rappers. At the same time, many young
men copy the “gangsta” look to respond to the controlling gaze of
the dominant society. In an excellent melding of theory and research,
Kelly notes that some of her interviewees, rather than submit to the
social control of surveillance by authority figures, respond to the
“gaze” with the “glare”: “This glare can be achieved by a
combination of dress, walk and attitude that is reinforced by moving in
a group.” Not surprisingly, white authority figures find this
assertion of identity threatening.

The concept of the gaze could have been connected more explicitly with
both the historical context Kelly provides and the group discussions of
gender and peer relations and education. Although Kelly’s historical
summary provides essential information about how race has been
constructed by the dominant culture in Canada, it would be interesting
to know how the controlling gaze has led to the suppression of black
history in Canada.


Kelly, Jennifer., “Under the Gaze: Learning to Be Black in White Society,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed November 28, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/3428.