Study Guide - Part One Assessment
Part One Assessment – Chapter Quizzes & Short Essay topics
Used most frequently with high school students, these quizzes are designed to check to see if the students have completed the reading with some understanding and comprehension. These questions are not meant to trick the student, but rather to see if the student read the material, remembers what was read, and has some understanding of the material covered in the chapters. Often there are some “gimme” questions, ones that are easy enough for everyone to answer if they read the material. The quizzes might be put together for use as an objective test covering the entire book.
The short essay topics are designed to get the student thinking about and reflecting upon the ideas presented in the book. Depending upon the subject, teachers could use such essays for various purposes. English classes might use them for in-class 45 minute timed writing and require a 5 paragraph essay, while a Black Studies or Psychology class might use the short essay topics as a 10 minute writing assignment to use as a springboard to class discussion.
If used as a prompt for writing an essay, the students would not required to answer all the questions; the questions should be used to help guide the students’ thoughts.
Also, instructors could separate the questions, using them individually as short answer questions on a test covering the chapters. Or questions from different chapters could be used as short answer essay questions covering the entire book. Hopefully, at the very least, these questions will help spark other questions the instructors would like to add for their own specialized classes.
I believe in the “Into, Through, and Beyond” approach to teaching literature. This involves delving into the book, analyzing the concepts and themes through the book, applying those themes beyond the book to one’s own life and then perhaps, to society in general. That’s why the essay topic questions are formulated the way they are.
This “Into, Through, and Beyond” approach is also used in the project/activity section of the study guide. Often the activities are methods of taking the students “through” the book; many take the student “beyond” the book.
Quiz #1—Multiple Choice – Prologue, Chapters 1, 2, & 3
Select the answer that best completes the statement.
1. The main reason Brian decides to write his memoir is:
a) It’s a tribute to his grandmother, b) It’s because of a piece of hate mail he received, c) He needs money quickly, d) He lost his job at the radio station.
2. When Brian was eight years old, his mother moved the family to:
a) San Francisco, CA, b) Hayward, CA, c) Oakland, CA, d) San Leandro, CA
3. Brian’s father, Sylvester, constantly yells at Brian, telling him to a) Quit sticking your lip out at me, b) Quit cutting your eyes at me, c) Neither a or b, d) Both a & b.
4. One of the reasons Brian’s mother moved the family to a new place was because a) Sylvester tried to strangle Brian, b) she wanted to have a bigger apartment, c) she wanted the kids to go to Catholic school, d) Grandma was unhappy with her bedroom.
5. Brian tells us that everyone knew that his new town was a) a hostile place for Black people to live, b) a place that welcomed the famous Japanese American, Fred Korematsu, c) the only town in the Bay Area struggling with integration in the 1960s, d) Both a & c.
6. Blockbusting is a term which describes how real estate agents a) kept the town all white, b) made lots of money selling homes to black families, c) would force black people out of their homes, d) Both a & c.
7. On Brian’s first Saturday in his new town, he a) is befriended by a kindly policeman, b) meets 6 teenagers who tell him how to get to the park, c) is racially profiled by a cop, d) plays ball in the park with his new bat and ball.
8. Brian is shocked to hear the cop a) lie and say Brian was using his bat as a weapon, b) say how nice Brian was when he picked him up, c) threaten to arrest the white teenagers, d) Both b & c.
9. After the incident with the cop, Brian wonders a) if he will see the cop again, b) what is it about himself that so offended people, c) why the cop is so afraid of Brian, d) Both b & c.
10. The incident with the cop causes Brian to a) cry all night long, b) not want to do anything, ever again, c) play cards with his mom all night long, d) release all the butterflies in his collection.
Short Reflective Essay Questions – Prologue, Chapters 1, 2, & 3:
Background - The San Francisco Bay Area has always been a bastion of liberalism, an area that we traditionally think of as being open to diversity of all kinds. Yet, we still hear that racism rears its ugly head in spite of all our diversity. Brian shows us a vivid example of such racism in the character of the cop who mistreats him and then lies to Brian’s mother.
Topics – In a short essay, reflect upon authority figures who are supposed to serve us all, but allow their racist attitudes and fear of diversity to govern their actions. Discuss how the cop demonstrates his racism when dealing with young Brian during Brian’s first outing in his new town. What, exactly, does the cop do to Brian that is racist? What is the lie that he tells to Brian’s mother? How does Brian’s mother respond to the lie? What is the effect of authority figures upon our society who lie to benefit themselves and others like them? Discuss whether or not there are people currently in positions of authority who demonstrate racist attitudes? Conclude by discussing whether the piece of hate mail Brian receives saying that he is not a “genuine black man” is an example of racial prejudice or not.
Possible Answer for Reflective Essay - Prologue, Chapters 1, 2, & 3
Students should include a description of the traditional role of the policeman in our society as the peace makers and peace keepers. When we were children, we were all taught that a policeman is the one to go to when we are in trouble, for he will help us with whatever problem we might have. That is why Brian is relieved when he sees the policeman as he’s running from the kids in the car who are chasing him.
The racist cop, however, treats Brian as the criminal instead of the victim he is. This behavior shocks Brian as he is introduced into the world of racism and racial profiling. The policeman accuses Brian of stealing his own bat and ball, because in his bigoted mind the black boy wouldn’t have a nice bat and ball. The racial profiling is blatant, as the cop forces 8 year old Brian to ride in the caged back seat of the police car to his home.
Even more shocking to Brian, however, is to hear the cop lie to Brian’s mother, saying that Brian was at fault. The cop lies because he is racist, but also when he sees Brian’s mom at the apartment, he realizes that Brian was telling the truth. He feels he must cover his actions in order to protect himself from Brian and any potential accusations. The effect of the lie is to have Brian realize that the cop is afraid of him. But Brian wonders what is wrong with himself rather than what is wrong with the cop. He wonders why a policeman, who is supposed to be so good and so helpful to children in trouble, will treat him so poorly and lie about him. This authority figure, this bad cop, is teaching Brian about racial profiling. Brian becomes convinced that he shouldn’t do anything, ever again. His depression seems to start here as he begins the struggle with his identity, a struggle he hides as a young man, and then revisits many years later.
Students may have many or few examples of authority figures telling lies, and they may also have many or few examples of prejudicial policeman. Students often feel that cops pick on them just because they are kids. Sometimes it’s true.
Students may be split about whether the author of the hate mail is racist – answers will vary. Some may even understand that within races, there are people who are prejudiced against members of their own race. The author of the hate letter demonstrates that kind of prejudice.
Quiz #2—TRUE/FALSE – Chapters 4, 5, & 6
Select TRUE if the statement is completely true, or FALSE if any part of the statement is not true.
T – F 1. Brian goes out to celebrate this 35 birthday by drinking shots of Irish whisky with his wife and family.
T – F 2. Brian is beginning to feel his age because nobody “cards” him anymore, like they used to when he would use the fake ID during his Senior year of high school.
T – F 3. Brian has a phobia about germs and won’t touch the door or sit directly on the toilet in a public bathroom.
T – F 4. Brian’s birthday celebration is marred when he overhears old classmates say, “He’s still a nigger.”
T – F 5. Brian and his Grandma have to go all the way to Oakland to find a barber who will cut his type of hair.
T – F 6. Brian has a good time at the barbershop, playing guessing games about Superboy with a man named, Lester.
T – F 7. Brian’s mom is happy to learn that Brian went back to Mr. Johnson’s barber shop for his hair cut.
T – F 8. At first, when Brian’s 4 year old son, Adam, is interested in a dollhouse at the hobby shop, Brian thinks his son may be gay.
T – F 9. Adam wants Brian to buy the “white family” for the dollhouse, because his friend Tommy told him that brown people are bad.
T – F 10. When they get home, Brian runs to the bathroom and throws up, unable to even play with his son.
Short Reflective Essay Questions – Chapters 4, 5, & 6:
Background - In these chapters, Brian shows us two major examples of what it means to be brown in a society dominated by white people. When he’s eight years old, he hears “Sorry, we don’t cut his kind of hair.” And then years later, he hears from his own 4 year old son, “Daddy, I don’t want to be brown! I don’t want to be bad.”
Topic - In a short essay, reflect on your feelings about racial prejudice in our society. You may use the following questions to guide your thoughts. What effect does it have on a child to be told over and over again that his hair is so different that no barber in the town can cut his hair? What must it be like to have one’s best friend tell you that your skin color makes you bad? How and when does racial prejudice begin? At what age do the negative effects of prejudice take hold on a human being? What are some of the negative effects? How can we counter these negative effects of prejudice on ourselves, our families, and upon our society? Conclude by discussing if you (or someone you know) has ever experienced any prejudice based entirely upon something you cannot change?
Possible answer for Reflective Essay – Chapters 4, 5, & 6:
Students’ answers here will vary greatly, as the topic asks for personal feelings. However, the comparisons between Brian’s experience at 8 years of age and his son Adam’s experience 20 years later at the age of four should be discussed carefully. The thought that 20 years after Brian’s hair cutting incident, four year old Adam must still experience the negative effects of prejudice is shattering to Brian and horrifying to the reader. The effects of racial prejudice are so vivid, cruel, and often debilitating, that one wonders how anyone could have the resilience to come out somewhat whole.
The negative effects of prejudice upon human beings are extremely varied, and the students will have many thoughts on the subject. The depression and the difficulty of coming to know and love oneself are two major negative effects of racial prejudice which the student should discuss since these are important issues in the book. These negative effects don’t wait until one is mature; they take hold in childhood when one is most vulnerable and can last forever. We see both Brian and his son learn as children all about how “brown is bad.” And we watch as the 35 year old Brian is once again reminded that “he is just a nigger.” It never ends.
The students will have many ideas about ridding our society of prejudice; most will probably speak of education and reading books such as this one. Some may say that prejudice is less of a problem now than it was in the 1970s when Brian was a child. Hopefully most will realize that the point of the “Hobby Shop” chapter is to refute the notion that “things are better now.” They should be able to recognize that racism is still with us, and that students in school still experience prejudice and bullying the way Brian did.
Quiz #3—Multiple Choice – Chapters 7 & 8
Select the answer that best completes the statement.
1. The reason Mr. Wentworth says he must evict Brian’s family from their apartment, is that: a) their application was missing, b) there are too many of them in one apartment, c) Brian and his sisters are too noisy and the neighbors complain, d) the family is black.
2. Carolyn’s attitude toward the eviction notice is: a) to get evidence to prove that Mr. Wentworth is wrong, b) to cry and put Brian to bed, c) to immediately begin looking for another apartment, using her “white accent” on the phone, d) both b & c.
3. During Brian’s first day in the third grade at Lewelling School, his new classmates: a) were interested in touching his hair, b) ignored him as if he were not there, c) were afraid of him, d) all wanted to sit next to the “new boy.”
4. When the children began teasing Brian by calling him “Brillo Head,” Miss Hubbard, the teacher, responded by: a) yelling at the boys and shaming the girls, b) telling the children that they must apologize, c) continuing to give the lesson to the class, d) looking at Brian with pity in her eyes.
5. Brian used Geri Curl and other products like texturizer to make his hair appear “white” and straight mostly because he: a) wanted to be able to “flip” his hair like white boys, b) wanted hair that others would want to touch, c)wanted his hair to be blond d) wanted his hair to look like Nat King Cole’s hair.
6. Brian runs home after his first day at Lewelling school because he wants: a) to get home to tell his grandmother about his day, b) to get home before he starts to cry, c) to escape the kids who are chasing him, d) to get home in time to watch his favorite show, Superman.
7. The boys who had previously been the targets of the school bullies were: a) jealous of the attention Brian was receiving, b) trying to fit in by beating Brian up, c) were angry that Brian was not a good athlete, d) were now appointed to be the captains of the kickball teams and chose Brian first.
8. When Brian is beaten up in the bathroom, the principal of the Catholic school
a) punishes all the boys, except for Brian, with a paddling, b) takes Brian to the school nurse to get his cuts cleaned up, c) tells the others to go back to class, hits Brian, and lies about it later, d) sends Brian home and expels him from the school for fighting.
9. Brian thinks he’s a bad person because a) the cops lied about him, b) the nuns lied about him, c) Miss Carrion lied about him, d) both a & b.
10. Miss Carrion a) is Brian’s favorite teacher at the Catholic school, b) treats Brian as a human being should be treated, c) enjoys having Brian help her after school, grading papers and doing other tasks, d) all the above – a, b, & c.
Short Reflective Essay Questions – Chapters 7 & 8:
Background - In these chapters, Brian shows us his family dealing with “the enemy,” in San Leandro and at his school. In chapter 7, Carolyn faces Mr. Wentworth; in chapter 8, Brian learns to deal with his enemies by “steering clear” of them (pg. 69.)
Topics – Who are the enemies that Brian learns to steer clear of? How is the principal an enemy? What other authority figure does she remind you of? What does “steering clear” come to mean for Brian, his sisters, and their way of living? How does “steering clear” contribute to Brian’s growing feelings of isolation? What are the issues facing students in schools today when it comes to facing bullying and name calling. Describe any people today who must also “steer clear” of their “enemies.” Have the types of “enemies” changed in any significant way? How?
Possible answer for Reflective Essay – Chapters 7 & 8:
Students should be able to recognize that the “enemy” could be any authority figure or white person, making it a very difficult task for Brian to know of whom he must “steer clear.” For, as he says, “the enemy was everywhere.” The principal who lied was Brian’s worst enemy because she knows he knows she lied. She and the cop seem to be made out of the same racist mold. How shattering to realize that not only a cop, but a nun, a woman who has sworn to love is filled with so much hate simply because Brian is black.
For Brian and his sisters, “steering clear” means almost complete isolation. It means enduring name-calling and bullying. It means watching one’s back every step of every day, especially in the school bathrooms. It means learning how to navigate through the “minefields” that now fill every part of his life, everywhere he goes. There may be trouble anywhere, with any white person. And Brian and his sisters are the only black students at school. The biggest irony is that St. Felicitas, an almost all white school was named after a black nun, he didn’t learn about that fact until many years later.
Those who must “steer clear” of their enemies in schools these days are still black children. Only now, included with black children, are gay children, or those perceived to be gay, and children who have recently come from the Middle Eastern countries or are Muslim. These are groups of people who experience prejudice, often daily, and sometimes deadly. The students may see that while the specific enemies may have changed, the bigotry, prejudice, and hatred remains the same. Our society must learn to embrace the beauty of our diversity, rather than be fearful of it and filled with hatred.
Quiz #4—TRUE/FALSE – Chapters 9, 10, & 11
Select TRUE if the statement is completely true, or FALSE if any part of the statement is not true.
T – F 1. After the Adult Brian gets the job on TV, he finally feels accepted for the first time in his life.
T – F 2. Brian is so successful financially, that he is able to buy himself a red Cadillac convertible.
T – F 3. Brian held almost every job with the TV station, except he was not allowed to be the weatherman.
T – F 4. One of Brian’s stunts on his TV show was to have his legs waxed.
T – F 5. Brian’s depression finally manifests itself when he breaks down, weeping uncontrollably in his car on the side of the road.
T – F 6. The Boy Scout fishing counselor refuses to sign Brian’s merit badge card because he’s black.
T – F 7. The Boy Scout fishing counselor signed Brian’s merit badge because Sylvester had already taught Brian how to fish.
T – F 8. Adult Brian takes up running a few miles everyday for exercise.
T – F 9. Brian feels guilty when he turns in to the police the two black guys he sees in his neighborhood, sitting in a car looking suspicious.
T – F 10. Refusing to racially profile, Brian does not call the police and tell them about the suspicious black guys he saw sitting in the car.
Short Reflective Essay Questions – Chapters 9, 10, & 11:
Background - In these chapters, Brian shows us his depression building and incidents both from his childhood and his current life that contribute to the depression. On his drive to interview one of his heroes in chapter 9, Brian breaks down crying. Chapters 10 & 11 show us examples of racial profiling from both sides. When he’s a kid, Brian joins the Boy Scouts to be a “normal” boy, only to be racially profiled and treated as an outsider once again. In chapter 11, when he is an adult, he finds himself in a situation where he is guilty of racially profiling two men who are sitting in a car near his house.
Topics – What is racial profiling? At one point during chapter 10, Brian says that he’s “just like a normal boy,” but is he? Why does the counselor act friendly, encouraging Brian to come meet with him and then turn on Brian when the counselor sees him for the first time? Why is Brian angry at himself for racial profiling? Why is it that with some races or ethnic groups the actions of a few reflect negatively upon the whole race, but with the white race that doesn’t seem to happen? Have you ever been guilty of judging people simply because of their race or ethnic group? Give some examples of how our society in general is still guilty of racially profiling human beings? And finally, what is it about Patrick Doohan (Scotty from Star Trek) that causes Brian to break down crying? Why does Brian weep uncontrollably?
Possible answer for Reflective Essay – Chapters 9, 10, & 11
Racial profiling is judging an entire race or group of people based entirely upon the actions of a few. The fishing counselor thought Brian was white when he heard him on the phone. But when he sees that Brian is black, he racially profiles him, and, demonstrating his own racism and prejudice, he refuses to teach Brian how to fish. Brian wants to be “like a normal boy,” but the incident with the fishing counselor makes him acutely aware that he is not a normal boy and contributes to his deepening depression.
As an adult, Brian doesn’t want to be guilty of acting the same way others acted toward him, and he’s angry that the actions of a few reflect upon his whole race and place him in such an uncomfortable position. It’s true, that some black people are criminals, but does it make racial profiling right? Examples of racial profiling in our society today not only include the black race, but also include the Middle Eastern people now living in our communities, especially those of the Muslim faith who wear veils and scarves. A woman was shot & killed in Fremont last year simply because she was wearing veils.
Scotty’s missing finger shows us that Patrick Doohan is not whole physically. Brian’s weeping is triggered because he unconsciously realizes that he, too, is not whole, even though he has achieved great success in television. These chapters show us that Brian is lacking a sense of identity. Once again, he does not feel like a “genuine” black man.
Quiz #5—Multiple Choice – Chapters 12 & 13
Select the answer that best completes the statement.
1. In order to assimilate into the white society of San Leandro, Brian’s mother:
a) converted to Mormonism, b) straightened her hair, c) became a Republican,
d) both b & c.
2. Grandma worried that Brian would be accused of hitting the white folks because during communion he would: a) jab them in their necks, b) tap them on their shoulder, c) toss the wafer in their mouths, d) nudge them awake.
3. Brian and his sisters were never allowed to celebrate Halloween because Grandma: a) thought that it was begging, b) believed that the white folks would blame them if any candy were found to bad or contaminated, c) feared that the white folks would give them bad or contaminated candy, d) both a & b.
4. The waitress at the iHop could best be described as: a) distant, cold, and bigoted,
b) sunny, bright, and happy, c) resigned, arrogant, and prejudiced, d) both a & c.
5. While at the iHop, Carolyn purposefully leaves an excessive tip for the waitress because she: a) wanted to make the service better for the next black family that got that waitress, b) wanted to prove to grandma she was making a lot of money at her modeling job, c) was mad at Grandma for complaining in front of the kids about moving to San Leandro, d) both a & c.
6. When Brian and his family return home after “Leakfest” and shopping, Brian is accused of: a) stealing from the restaurant, b) throwing rocks at the neighbors,
c) throwing hot water on the neighbors, d) throwing a cat in the swimming pool.
7. When the accusing, angry neighbors finally leave, the person who breaks down and cries is: a) Brian’s Grandma, b) Brian’s little sister, c) Brian, d) Brian’s mom.
8. After the “hot water” incident, the next problem the family must face is: a) eviction from their apartment, b) the neighbors throwing garbage at their front door,
c) Brian getting expelled from school for fighting, d) both a & b.
9. When he was almost 15 years old, Brian suffered the loss of: a) his grandmother,
b) his teacher, c) his mother, d) his best friend.
10. The method Brian uses to attempt suicide is: a) alcohol poisoning, b) asphyxiation, c) an automobile accident, d) cutting his wrists.
Short Reflective Essay Questions – Chapters 12 & 13:
Background - In these chapters, Brian shows us more examples of racial profiling from his own past, including the iHop waitress’s inability to make eye contact with him, the neighbors’ false accusations against him, and the landlord’s new edict for the family. Brian tells us that for the first 15 years of his life, he was trying to please his mother. Then, after her death, he spent the next 20 years trying to be his mother. He is now his mother’s age when she died, and at his birthday party he is reminded once again of his “station” in life. Then we begin to realize that Brian is preparing to commit suicide.
Topics –What events from Brian’s life – both as a boy and an adult – do you feel contributed most significantly to his attempted suicide? What is the effect on Brian of having the waitress speak to him, but make no eye contact? and of once again being accused of criminal actions simply because he’s black? What does Brian mean when he says that he was “trying to be his mother?” Why do you think he would try to be his mother? What are “those four hurtful words” that kept ringing in Brian’s ears? What are some of the items Brian takes with him into the Miata? What is the significance of the music he listens to? Have you ever known anyone who tried to commit suicide? What happened? What is/was the effect upon you? How does society in general view suicide, or attempted suicide? What would you say to Brian if you could talk to him right now?
Possible answers to Chapters 12 & 13 Essay questions:
The students’ answers will vary greatly since the topic invites them to express their opinions based upon events from the book. In our society, not making eye contact shows a lack of respect. Brian feels that the waitress’s lack of eye contact is saying that even his physical presence is an imposition on her. Then, when he returns home, he’s accused simply because he’s black, and they saw a black boy commit the crime. These two incidents show not only how race issues wear upon our society, but also how they wear upon the individuals involved. Brian is just a boy, but once again he feels that white people would like the world better if he were not a part of it.
The trauma of Carolyn’s death and the need to decide if there would be an autopsy weighs very heavily upon fourteen year old Brian. Not wanting to let her go, not wanting to let all her desires and dreams for the family go, Brian tries to live her life. In a way, by being her, she has not died at all. He blocks out all the horrible events and concentrates upon making his mother’s dreams come true. And he does make them come true. He achieves successes she could have only dreamed for him, and he garners the respect she always wanted for herself and her family. That feeling of being respected is shattered, however, the evening of his 35th birthday when he overhears an old school mate say those four hurtful words, “He’s still a nigger.”
Those are the four words that ring in Brian’s ears as he makes a shaker of martini’s, gets his Cuban cigar, goes to the garage, puts the top down on his sports car, starts the Miata, and lets it idle as he listens to Rick Springfield’s song, “Success hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet.” The song is about losing his father suddenly, and Brian relates to the lines about the “great unknown.” Brian wants to join his mother and know the “great unknown.”
Students will give various answers to the questions about knowing people who have committed suicide or attempted to do so, the effects, and what they’d say to Brian.
Key Literary Elements – Page 3
Chapter Summaries – Part One – Page 10
Part One Assessment – Page 18
Chapter Summaries – Part Two - Page 28
Part Two Assessment – Page 38
Answer Keys for Part 1 & Part 2 Objective Chapter Quizzes - Page 50
Study Questions/ Suggestions for Essays /Activities & Projects – Page 51
Activities & Projects – Page 53
General Literary Topics for Essay writing, Exams, & Discussion
Sample Essay Assignments and general requirements – Page 70
Share your Assignment, Activity, or Project
May be posted on Brian’s web site (www.briancopeland.com).