When Leslie sees the reflection of the racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic monster staring back at her in the knife blade in Infidel, we begin to see her own self-reflection of the deep rooted prejudices she holds, specifically during her conversation with her granddaughter Kris. Other characters see the same type of reflection, notably Ethan, or they don’t, notably Grace who I discussed in the last post. In each of these cases, when someone sees the monster reflected back at them, they begin to examine and question themselves.
As Reynolds gets ready in the mirror, we see him tying his tie and straightening it. One of the monsters appears, reflected back at him, crawling over his shoulder. Reynolds does not see the monster reflected back at him, and in the final panel, the monster approaches Reynolds’ neck, preparing to bite. At this moment, Grace and Ethan walk into his apartment. Ethan stares at Reynolds and asks, “What the fuck?” We then see a panel where Reynolds turns around facing his friends as the monster blurs out of the mirror.
The next panel shows all three standing around, and Ethan tells them, “There-there was this weird blur . . . in the mirror. Grace, you saw it, right?” Grace responds by asking, “Saw what?” Earlier, Grace does not see or feel the monster in the plant when all of the friends meet together in Medina and Ethan’s apartment and talk. Aihsa sees it appear over Grace’s shoulder as she tells the group about her reactions to Ahmad Shahazad. She tells them, “I mean, I didn’t realize he was Arab until he was in the news . . .” Here, the monster appears in the plant behind her shoulder. Aisha jumps, and no one in the room saw the monster except for Aisha and Ethan.
When Ethan and Reynolds go to the basement to look for Arthur Quinn’s belongings, they have a conversation about race, and here, we see that Ethan has been thinking and working through these thoughts for some time while Reynolds hasn’t. This is why Ethan sees the monster in the reflection and Reynolds doesn’t. Ethan points out that Grace thinks Aisha murdered Leslie and injured Kris, and Reynolds responds by saying, “Yeah, she also said, ‘Those people.’ You caught that, right? . . . You know, I’ve read posts from people online spouting racist-sounding shitm but to have someone sitting right in from of me.” For Reynolds, he has not actively engaged with looking at himself or others in regard to the roots of prejudice.
We see this when later in the narrative Ethan tells Medina that they should call Reynolds before going back into the apartment building. Medina tells him, “You said he was in the room with it but didn’t see anything. Like that bitch who accused Aisha of pushing Leslie. How can we trust any of them if they can’t see?” Here, Medina points out that while Reynolds has friends from different races, ethnicites, and religious backgrounds he does not see the manifestations of prejudice that surround him. Unlike Ethan, Aisha, Medina, and more who either confront prejudice every day or who have interrogated their own prejudice, he has remained blind to the cancer spreading within him.
Ethan asks what Medina has against Reynolds, and she replies, “I’m just saying, he’s a trust fund kid who went to a bougie private school, and grew up in a snow-white suburb.” Medina’s comment points out that Reynolds, for all of his worldliness, was isolated racially, culturally, ethnically, and otherwise. This isolation conjoined with the worldliness allowed him to expand his horizons but also keep him insulated within the “snow-white suburb,” thus failing to allow him to truly examine his own whiteness and prejudices.
Ethan, on the other hand, has worked to think about his own position. In the basement, he tells Reynolds, “I’ve actually had long conversations about whether my best friend in high school was racist.” Here, Ethan talks about his friend Rebecca Dean who said she only dates white guys because she has a “type.” Initially, Ethan viewed this as racist, but then he started thinking and tells Reynolds, “I don’t know anymore, man. I’ve talked to people about it, and nobody agrees.”
The next panel shows Ethan and Reynolds looking at a shirt they found, and the panel appears to be from one of the monster’s point of view. It has red shading throughout, as other panels in the narrative do when it feels like characters are being watched. In this panel, Ethan says, “I mean, I only recently met a black girl I was attracted to. Before that, I was never attracted to one. So was I racist? But then again, I could say the same thing about redheads. And if I was gay, am I misogynistic for not being attracted to women?”
Even though we do not get a definitive answer from Ethan about his inquires, the mere fact that he has thought about these issues and has explored them within himself shows that he is on the path to uprooting the prejudices within himself. This moment, and Leslie’s move towards self-examination, reminds me of Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream when she discusses an interracial dinner party she hosted on Screamer Mountain. She says that a white woman, who knew that eating with Black women was right, still felt nauseous about the dinner and the nausea did not subside until after the dinner was over.
The woman told Smith that the nausea arose from the “bottom of her personality.” It arose from the deep seated roots and the fast spreading cancer that suffocated her being from the inside. These could be trace to “her childhood training.” Throughout Infidel, this is what characters such as Leslie and Ethan struggle with, and it is what Grace and Reynolds fail to see. It also highlights that even though Leslie and Ethan are working through these issues the pull of the “childhood [and cultural] training” remain strong.
Writing about Smith’s anecdote, philosopher George Yancy states, “This is an incredible example because it demonstrates that having a serene conscience or having an epistomologically correct belief does not ipso facto militate against the impact of one’s white racism.” Even when individuals interrogate themselves and try to uproot all of the “childhood training” that fuels their “white racism,” they have residual debris left within them, floating around like detritus. It remains, dormant and stagnant, waiting for the moment to resurrect. Eradication is the only option. Eradication and the recognition that when it begins to resurrect one squashes it immediately, refusing to let it grow and spread. Unless one can recognize it, it will overtake a person’s psyche, and they will become blind to the monster reflected in the mirror and the monsters that travel with them throughout their day to day lives.