Let's Play White by Chesya Burke

August 29, 2016
Book Review, InToriLex, Let's Play White, Chesya Burke
Published By: Apex Publications on April 26, 2011
Format Read: Paperback Edition (200 pages)
Genre: Horror/ Fantasy/ Short Story
Series: Standalone
Source:  Boston Radical Feminists of Color Book Club
Let's Play White
White brings with it dreams of respect, of wealth, of simply being treated as a human being. It's the one thing Walter will never be. But what if he could play white, the way so many others seem to do? Would it bring him privilege or simply deny the pain? The title story in this collection asks those questions, and then moves on to challenge notions of race, privilege, personal choice, and even life and death with equal vigor. From the spectrum spanning despair and hope in "What She Saw When They Flew Away" to the stark weave of personal struggles in "Chocolate Park," Let's Play White speaks with the voices of the overlooked and unheard. "I Make People Do Bad Things" shines a metaphysical light on Harlem's most notorious historical madame, and then, with a deft twist into melancholic humor, "Cue: Change" brings a zombie-esque apocalypse, possibly for the betterment of all mankind.

Gritty and sublime, the stories of Let's Play White feature real people facing the worlds they're given, bringing out the best and the worst of what it means to be human. If you're ready to slip into someone else's skin for a while, then it's time to come play white.


This short story collection rocked my socks off.  Each story had enough real world and fantastical elements to help suspend your disbelief in a entertaining way. The African American experience in America can be horrific, it is a reality that belongs in some fictional horror story but fortunately is very real. Within very few pages, I became attached to characters and longed for the stories to continue.  This author has an incredible talent to draw the reader in, and make them uncomfortable. Some of the story's deserve a trigger warning  because they involve sexual abuse, prostitution and graphic violence. But overall I was never overwhelmed with what was described because it hit so close to home.
I would recommend this to everyone who can handle uncomfortable topics and enjoy engaging and memorable writing. This was a brief but powerful collection of stories, that lend themselves open to interpretation. Below are my brief spoiler free thoughts on each:

Walter and the Three Legged King- Walter is a man determined to make a life for himself. He gets a unlikely wake up call, that leads him to better opportunities. This story has great visceral descriptions of what it's like to live in poverty.

Purse- This involves a women dealing with the hustle and bustle or riding a NYC subway. But very quickly things take a turn. I was genuinely surprised at the story's ability to grip me in three short pages.

I Make People Do Bad Things- There's some great fantastical elements included in this story of a crime regime lead and maintained by Madame St. Clair. Madame St. Clair has to grapple with making morally just decisions, in a business where making money trumps all.

The Unremembered- This takes the relateable narrative of having a sick child, and adds new meaning towards perseverance and the value of past knowledge.
"The slavery my dear was not the most difficult part; no the hard part was the loss. The loss of everything past, present and future. To take away one's past is to deny them a future." 
Chocolate Park- It's clearly very difficult to keep a family together who has been forever marked by poverty and tragedy. Three sisters find their own ways to hope and make a future for themselves. This was emotionally wrenching and includes some very violent and sexually abusive scenes, not for the faint of heart.

What She Saw When They Flew Away- Everyone deals with loss differently, but it can be extremely hard to help a child deal with grief. This story illustrates how crippling grief can be, and how one mother learns the importance of being free.

He Who Takes the Pain Away- A very touching and symbolic story challenging ideas about faith and belief.

CUE:Change- It seems like everyone has a zombie story to tell, but this zombie story is about much more then mindless monsters. These zombies have a plan, this bizarre narrative highlights how hard change can be.
"In fact, some may say that our special garden variety of zombie was actually less threatening than the brutal police or rich perverts who had roamed our streets previously. At least they weren't licensed by corrupt laws. That was how I saw it, it's how a lot of people saw it."
The Room Where Ben Disappeared- The only story told from the perspective of a white man, this had some very relatable moments of worry and despair.

The Light of Cree- This is a coming of age story, where how to accept your purpose takes main stage.

The Teachings and Redemption of Ms. Fannie Lou Mason- People fear the unknown, but some people are created to address the fearful abyss. This story is as fantastical as it is true, it was fantastic.


Chesya Burke has written and published nearly a hundred fiction pieces and articles within the genres of science fiction, fantasy, noir and horror. Her story collection, Let's Play White, is being taught in universities around the country. In addition, Burke wrote several articles for the African American National Biography in 2008, and Burke's novel, THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA, debuts later this fall. Poet Nikki Giovanni compared her writing to that of Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison.

Burke's thesis was on the comic book character Storm from the X-MEN, and her comic, Shiv, is scheduled to debut in 2016.

Burke is currently pursuing her PhD in English at University of Florida. She's Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Charis Books and More, one of the oldest feminist book stores in the country.

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