Gunnar is a cultural mulatto that frequently shifts between the white world and the Black world. Gunnar, like many of the cultural mulattos, is incapable of fitting in perfectly in either world. In the white world,he is very conscious of his blackness. And in the black world he is in constant unease trying to meet the expectations that are placed on him as messiah, basketball player, and representative. His mother relocates him and sisters so they can experience “a bitter taste of her vaunted ‘traditional black experience’.” He describes this shift living the black lifestyle like “being in a never-ending log-rolling contest” .
In the beginning of the book, Beatty presents the genealogy of the Kaufman family. The Kaufman family tree consists of many sellouts to Blackness including: Swen Kaufman, who ran back into slavery, Franz von, the loving seeing eye human to his slavemaster, and Gunnar’s father, Rolf Kaufman, a criminal sketch artist that has passively accepted racism and mistreatment all his life. The genealogy places Gunnar as the next traitor in a long line of disappointment, yet he becomes the Messiah of the Black community. It is debatable whether he fits within his genealogy or breaks the tradition and becomes a true leader of the Black community, because he incites a mass suicide of the Black community and is apathetic towards his role as leader.
- Gunnar is a nerd, an avid reader and very intelligent and self-aware. He plays two roles, poet and basketball player. His intellectualism is revered because he because he uses his poetry for the Black community as the Gun Totin’ Hooligans’ resident poet. He gains further acceptance as a talented basketball player. The role as a basketball player validates his masculinity, although he cannot approach females and he has no aggressive or violent tendencies.
- Psycho loco is Hillside’s resident gang leader of the Gun Totin’ Hooligans. They are aware of their performance of masculinity, and manipulate this expectation of them by cross-dressing for a surprise attack on a competing gang.