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“Understand This” by Jervey Tervalon


Within the past few weeks, the United States has experienced one of the most turbulent times in its history following the death of George Floyd. This intentional murder of the African American forced many citizens across the country to stand up against the mistreatment of black people, a malpractice that has remained pervasive for decades. The novel Understand This, examines some of the issues that define the American society and encourages readers to promote a new action that is capable of empowering all Americans equally and making it easier for them to achieve their goals in life.

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Critical Analysis

The title of the selected novel examines several themes that are associated with the present-day American society. It encourages more people to ignore their stereotypes and prejudices that remain common in this country. The phrase “Understand This” tries to guide Americans to appreciate the idea that racial inequality is a major challenge making it impossible for the underprivileged individuals to transform their experiences (Tervalon 4). Both the readers and characters in the work are expected to consider the predicaments defining their societies and be willing to address them.

Different observations of the characteristics described in the novel make it possible for the audience to focus on the problem of disparities that define the United States. For example, the author writes: “This place is like something you see in a science fiction movie. Five-story apartment buildings on both sides and in the center where we’re walking, hot tubs and pools and brick ponds, cool and blue in front of each building. Ahead I see tennis courts. It’s like Disneyland” (Tervalon 17). This quote tries to expose the experiences and way of life for the whites in the selected place. This portrayal occurs when Ollie tries to explain the neighborhoods associated with the elites in the society. This kind of description indicates that the lives and houses for African Americans and other minorities differ significantly.

The problem of inequality creates new opportunities for insecurity and police brutality in most of the neighborhoods characterized by minority groups. The levels of insecurity and crime are usually high in such cities. Sociologists have succeeded in presenting different theories to explain how and why individuals from underprivileged citizens will tend to engage in criminal activities (Lee et al.). Others have to sell illicit and controlled drugs to get money. In the book, François’s mother says: “You know how many times a night I think about you. Think you might be out there on the ground bleeding to death. When they wheel bodies in and I got to admit them, young men like you, blown up, cut up like meat on a rack. I say to myself that could be François” (Tervalon 15). From this quote, the reader observes that many young individuals do not make it in life due to the dangers they have to encounter while looking for money to meet the needs of their family members. This is exactly what happens to the young man by the name Doug.

The novel’s title could be studied as an informative phrase that is addressed to all Americans citizens. This knowledge could guide more people to introduce appropriate strategies and relationships that can empower minority groups in the country (Lee et al.). Readers who heed such a call will appreciate the fate of many underprivileged persons and consider become part of this problem. Similarly, the selected book tries to encourage the characters to consider new ways and practices to improve their live experiences, be more pragmatic, and avoid some of the offenses that could get them into trouble. More African Americans should be ready to work hard and identify emerging opportunities to become successful citizens. The author presents these messages without victimizing both the characters and the general American population.

The author uses his novel to identity African Americans and whites as the primary communities. Through the work, the writer wants all people to consider various issues that remain divisive in the wider society, such as police brutality, crime, inequality, and positive social mobility. It is also evident that many people would be unhappy to see members of the African American community succeed in life. This is why the author writes: “People who have no interest in seeing you make it. Any mistake you make proves them right, that you’re another Affirmative Action failure” (Tervalon 144). The targeted audience would realize that the author highlights the perspectives of African Americans since they have been on the receiving end.

The death of Floyd has come at a time when more minorities in the United States remain unhappy with the institutional discrimination and prejudice are prevalent in this country. In his article, Merrefield indicates that Americans are “living in a time when inequality is at a breaking point, at rock bottom or stagnating on many dimensions: health and mortality differences, the wealth gap, the income gap, the incarceration gap, among others”. These arguments explain why all stakeholders should collaborate and find a solution to these long-standing issues affecting many underprivileged citizens.

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Finally, the author has considered the perspectives of stakeholders who need to consider the challenges of police brutality and racial injustice in this country. For instance, leaders are required to be on the frontline to guide Americans and consider a new way of life that promotes parity. The problem of gun control gets the attention of the writer since it remains divisive and makes it easier for both police officers and civilians to misuse their firearms. The author indicates that: “Gun control is possible only when people in the community feel safe. Where I live nobody feels safe, everyone has a gun, and people keep getting shot” (Tervalon 137). From this analysis, it is evident that more people in the presented city continue to face to the problem of gun-related violence. The government and members of the community should, therefore, collaborate to find sustainable solutions to the problems of police brutality, crime, violence, and racial injustices.


In the selected novel, the author has succeeded in exploring the life experiences of African Americans who have to encounter diverse challenges while remaining victimized in their neighborhoods. This message tries to challenge all members of the society to consider a new way of thinking and implement superior systems that empower all ethnic groups equally. The death of Floyd could be studied as the breaking point for the cases of discrimination and injustice many minority groups experience in this country. People’s understanding of such issues could influence a paradigm shift and make it easier for every disadvantaged citizen to lead a better life.

Works Cited

Lee, Randy T., et al. “On the Prevalence of Racial Discrimination in the United States.” PLoS ONE, vol. 14, no. 1, 2019, Web.

Merrefield, Clark.America Uprising: Scholars Reflect on the Death of George Floyd. Plus, 10 Tips for Journalists Covering Protests against Police Violence.” Journalist’s Resource, 2020, Web.

Tervalon, Jervey. Understand This. University of California Press, 1994.

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