“Protected Entity” -Daniel José Older

“Calhoun screams and I realize that Riley has made himself visible. I guess once you’ve tossed the rulebook out, you might as well go all the way.

“You’ve caused a lot of problems,” Riley says.

“Jesus, what are you?”

“It’s not about me. Maybe if you’d spent more time studying your own people

before you came studying mine, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“I—I don’t understand!”

“I think you do, but I’ll let it slide. Imma need you to do me a favor, though,

Mr. Calhoun.”

“Anything.”

“Put some of that degree’d-up intellect of yours into dealing with your shit,”

Riley says, “and move out.””

(pg. 228)

The story comes to a close with Riley murdering John Calhoun’s great grandfather’s ghost, despite his being a protected entity. Therefore, Riley goes against the council and his duties as a ghost detective are stripped away. Jose is an orderly rule-follwing sort of man, whereas Riley has more of a quick temper which is exemplified through his use of curse words and his willingness to kill this ghost. At this point, Riley points out that Calhoun should have studying his “own people” versus Riley’s “people.” Riley is an African American male whereas Calhoun is a white male. Calhoun is a white male who has chosen to live amongst all people of color and has chosen to study African culture. He stands for this trend of white people whom are eager to assimilate to and learn about black culture, yet they often fail to own up to the wrongs that white people have imposed onto minorities all throughout history. Calhoun is called out for never acknowledging his family’s history of enslaving people of color. Riley is so fed up with people like Calhoun that he risks his own life in order to save the lives of people of color. Jose acts as more of a bystander during this exchange, maybe because he doesn’t directly feel the hurt as much as Riley does. This exchange has a lot to do with the pain that Riley feels of people of color being wronged by white people throughout history. Riley telling Calhoun to “move out” is his final stand against white people walking over people of color. This moment is crucial because it gives Riley power over this white man.

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12 thoughts on ““Protected Entity” -Daniel José Older

  1. I really like the quote you use because I think it is a good representation of the messages that the story is trying to get across. I agree with your statement about Calhoun being criticized for never acknowledging his family’s past in slavery. I think that leaving out information makes Calhoun look sketchy and thus makes the reader question him more. I think that it would be interesting to learn about how Riley died, being that he is a ghost and that he seems so frustrated with the problems between white people and African Americans. Maybe his death had something to do with these very issues and that is why he is so much more passionate than Jose.

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  2. I really agree with your analysis about Riley and his strong feelings. I personally find it interesting that the Council of Death would deem the great grandfather’s ghost to be a “protected entity”. To me, that says something about not only the present society of humans but also the society of the dead. It shows that society still values high status and the white supremacy in society, whether it be a dead or alive one. Just the fact that a man, who is a well-known slave trader and believes that the African America race should go extinct, “is not to be touched, harmed, or insulted…and Failure to comply will result in banishment and termination” (p.227) shows how much the past has left its imprint on us today. For someone with his background to be so protected seems to say that the society still holds on to what is familiar to them despite the changes around them. Older seems to be pointing out that history is always there and cannot be ignored as if it didn’t happen and that having a status in society makes you untouchable.

    -Serina Thomas

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  3. I think the part where Riley tells Calhoun to study his own people and move out is particularly important because it is likely the first time in his life anyone has told Calhoun that he should be less interested in African and African-American culture. Calhoun was likely either ignorant of or thought himself far enough removed from the atrocities committed by his family that he thought his technical knowledge of this culture meant he could ignore his race and his privilege and try to separate himself from white culture and that by moving into a previously all black neighborhood was somehow something he should have been praised for.

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  4. I also feel like the fact that Calhoun’s Great Grandfather is a “protected entity” is very significant. It not only shows that his blatantly racist believes are still remembered, but also defended. The use of the word “protected” in the ghost’s designation doesn’t just give him VIP status, but implies that he is actively being guarded from attackers. It mirrors the way that racism exists in some parts of the US today. Where it is not corrected , but in fact protected, the way some traditions are protected from change simply for being a traditions.

    -Justin Wright

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  5. The statement that you made-“At this point, Riley points out that Calhoun should have studying his “own people” versus Riley’s “people”- is vital, yet ironic. Calhoun, along with other whites, being condemned for not reflecting on the damage their race has imposed on Africans is ironic due to the fact that individuals in our present society are encouraged to assimilate with people of other races. The disdain of these whites is alien to the readers of the story, since we live in the 21st century, where whites openly interact with minorities. Our society believes these actions cover the detrimental actions whites had imposed decades ago. Readers would be happy that Calhoun is engrossing himself in African culture, however, the author and characters of the story are making it seem like it’s bad. Thus, the above quote is significant as it shows that individuals, while still contributing to racism in a way, still condemn the white supremacy that reigned during the epitome of slavery.People today feel that whites still think they rule the world and that they should look in their past and think about the “injuries” they have imposed on the blacks.

    Nicole Schmalz

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  6. Riley told John Calhoun that if he “spent more time studying your own people (Calhoun’s) before you came studying mine (Riley’s), we wouldn’t be in this mess” (Older, 228). At first I did not understand the quote but your quote and reading the passage helped somewhat. The old phantom’s family “kept New York harbor a central point in the transatlantic slave trade” and the ghost himself states that “the extinction of the black race has to begin somewhere” (Older, 227). According to you, the younger Calhoun wants to learn about black culture but doesn’t acknowledge his family’s role in the slave trade. The young man is a hypocrite for not acknowledging his family history and this makes Riley’s quote much more meaningful. Also, there is a certain irony in the old Calhoun being a protected entity, for he is treated like an object, just as slaves were.

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  7. I agree that Riley pointing out that Calhoun needs to “focus on his own people” is important, but I have a different idea. To compare it to the way society is now, I think it fits well with Caucasians who try to assimilate or try to interact with other races. The media is focused on this idea that all races are equal and should be treated as such, which I completely agree with, however I think this story highlights an important idea that in some instances, such as Riley telling Calhoun to “focus on ‘his people’” ,displays that Whites are almost pushed away from interacting and not accepted all the time into minority settings and groups. However, you can tell that Riley sort-of holds a grudge against Calhoun when he states “Put some of that degree’d-up intellect of yours into dealing with your shit,” referring to his feeling that with all the “educated white people” they really should have never caused so many problems in the first place, which also connects a bit to the way our society feels in real life as well.

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  8. I found your blog post about this story to be very intriguing. I really liked the expert you chose to work with, it does give a perfect image of what the underlying plot of the story is. Apart from your blog being interesting, I also agree with the first comment posted on this blog. I too would love to know how it was that Riley died, i feel like his death, and how he died, plays a significant role in this story and the outcome. The racism here is blatant, theres no way around it. When words like “your people” and “my people” are used the reader automatically feels the intensity within the story become thicker and thicker, just like it would if someone used those words in our modern day society.

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  9. I enjoyed that you picked that specific passage from the text. I also love the angle that you someone offered pertaining to the fact that Riley is an unsettled ghost due to all the injustices throughout his lifetime, which can explain the hatred he has for Calhoun. I believe that this text brings awareness that within cultures there are many times where ‘accountability’ is not represented. In Riley’s mindset this could be his justification for the killing. In his mindset he’s lost a lot in life due to “the white man” so in a sense this is him taking back ‘power’.
    -Nicole Crippen

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  10. I really like this analysis of the passage. I completely agree that this is a portrayal of how society has historically handled issues pertaining to race. I think it is also very important to note how the Council handled Riley’s disobedience of an order when he attacked Calhoun’s great grandfather. It parallels how the “powers that be” today react when a minority group has finally had enough and retaliates against all the wrongs and injustices they have suffered. Instead of listening to what they have to say, there is typically a knee-jerk reaction that results in more injustice.

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  11. It was obvious that Riley and Jose have different characteristics when it comes to their personalities. Jose has more manners and more etiquette than Riley does. Riley is outspoken and does not go by the rules. Although Riley is not the most polite or well-mannered person, he shows his true colors when sticking up for people of color. I think Calhoun should have showed more interest in learning about his own family’s culture and past. This is a great example of “us vs. them” and this reading shows a great deal of racism.

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  12. I like how you chose the passage where Riley is finally made visible to Calhoun. It to me expresses the direct frustration Riley has had with Calhoun since he was first introduced. I really like the language and its informal approach to telling this story. At times I found it a little confusing as to which characters were ghosts and what the role of each character was, but as the story progresses everything is explained. I particularly like the character of Calhoun who is introduced as pompous and naive, in spite of his prestigious academic career. Clearly he was aware of his family’s tainted past and compensated for it with years of dedication to African culture. Although I do like the exchange between Riley and Calhoun, I feel Riley’s message is a little futile. Clearly Calhoun is a smart enough man to be aware of his family’s history, which makes his comment pointless in my opinion. To me the strongest parts of the story were the language, and I felt that that ending was pretty weak and unfulfilling in a cliche cop movie ending sort of way.

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