, Research Paper
What is race? The Webster’s dictionary defines race as any of the different varieties of human beings distinguished by physical traits, blood types, and so on. Nonetheless, I see this definition more fit for the word ethnicity than the race. In my opinion, ethnicity is a part of one’s race. One’s race embodies much more than just the ethnicity, which is just physical traits or blood types. It represents one’s identity, culture, origin, moral values, and so on. One could belong to any particular ethnicity; yet have completely different values than his or her ethnical group. Hence, I would consider this person’s race to be different from his or her ethnicity. For example, I am Korean; however I consider myself having more of American values in me than the Korean values. Consequently, I consider my ethnicity to be Korean; nonetheless, I see my race as being more American than Korean. In the book, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man by James Weldon Johnson, the narrator goes on a great journey through his life to learn about his racial background. He grew up thinking that he was a White, and he was taken by the society as a White because of his unusually White-like appearance. One day, he finds out that he is a Black. Through the journey of life, he observes and experiences the horrible side of being a Black. In the end, he ultimately decides to throw away his race as a Black, and desires to be accepted only as a White. Although it is somewhat understandable that he chooses to be a White after having seen so many horrible sides of being a Black, especially having seen a Black burned alive; nonetheless he should have never given up his own race because by giving up his own race, not only is he throwing away just his ethnicity, but also, and more importantly, he is throwing away his identity, culture, and ultimately self-pride.
One’s identity is a big aspect in the society in which we are living. It is what makes one different from the other. It is who you truly are, and it is what marks your territory in the society and in the minds of other people. It is definitely not something to be ashamed of or hidden. In fact, one should be very much proud of one’s own identity and should be willing to go any length in order to protect one’s own identity. Without identity, one is nothing in the society. Race plays a major role in determining one’s identity. Not only does a race give someone different physical traits, which determine half of one’s identity, but, more importantly, it also gives someone different values and views, which make up the other half of one’s identity. Accordingly, one should never forsake one’s race because one is eventually forsaking one’s own identity by doing so. Unfortunately, in the book, the narrator tries to hide his own race in fear of having his true identity exposed thus not being accepted to the society or being looked down upon. This is very evident in the narrator’s first encounter with “Shiny” after years of not having seen or spoken to him. The narrator says, “As quick as a flash I considered all the risks I might run in speaking to him, and most especially the delicate question of introducing him to her.” (Johnson 202) At the time, the narrator was with a White girl whom he was considering marrying. He was afraid that speaking to “Shiny” and introducing him to her might expose his true identity. I do not believe any of his behavior was commendable. In fact, he should be ashamed of himself for not being able to talk to his dearest friend. The narrator should realize how sad it is that a woman whom he is trying to marry does not know his true identity. Through his attempt of trying to cover up his own race thus identity, the narrator loses his own culture.
Different culture is what causes different outlooks among people. A culture leads one into viewing matters in a certain way. If two human beings were raised in different cultures, they would have different ways of viewing the world. A culture is mostly derived from a race. One’s race plays a huge role in determining one’s culture. Each race has certain values and morals that are different from other races. And for this reason, one should never give up one’s race. By throwing away one’s race, one is throwing away his culture and, ultimately, one’s way of looking at the world. It is almost like one is looking at the world through the views of someone else. One has lost all of one’s own values and now, one must live with the values that are not of his own. What a sad life! The evidence is even clear in the book. The narrator says, “From that time I looked out through other eyes, my thoughts were coloured, my words dictated?there is one phase of him which is disclosed only in the freemasonry of his own race.” (Johnson 21) After the narrator has found out about his Black racial background, his way of viewing the world completely changes. Even in his own words, he says, “I do not think my friends at school changed so much toward me as I did toward them.” (Johnson 22) He is a colored man, and he is starting to view the world through the eyes of a colored man which was actually who he is. He should have been proud that he finally found his origin and he was becoming whom he truly was instead of being in fear that people might find out that he was a Black after all. By trying to hide his race, not only is he lying to himself, but he is also trying to be someone that he is not. As a result, he loses more and more respect for himself.
One should take a great pride in his or her race. Race is one’s true origin and background. It is one of the biggest aspects that shape a person to become who he is. It is something one is born with, and it stays with one throughout his or her entire life. For that reason, it is by far one of the most influential factors in one’s life. For one to surrender one’s race, it means that one has lost pride in one’s own race and thus has lost pride in oneself. One is throwing all of one’s origin and history. The narrator himself even says, “I argued that to forsake one’s race to better one’s condition was no less worthy an action than to forsake one’s country for the same purpose.” (Johnson 190) As the narrator travels through the journey of his life and observes horrible sides of being a Black, he progressively loses pride in himself until he finally feels ashamed to be a Black and finally chooses to surrender his own race. For example, after having seen a Black burned alive, he says, “A great wave of humiliation and shame swept over me. Shame that I belonged to a race that could be so dealt with?Shame at being identified with a people that could with impunity be treated worse than animals.” (Johnson 187,188, 191) As a result, he does not feel proud of his own race thus not proud of himself. It continues on as the narrator meets “Shiny”, his old buddy. At the time he is with a woman whom he was planning on marrying, and he is afraid that if he starts a conversation with “Shiny”, his fianc? would find out about his true racial background. In this fear, the narrator fails to initiate a conversation with his dearest friend. The narrator states, “I confess that in my embarrassment and confusion I felt small and mean.” (Johnson 202) As shown, the narrator loses his pride as he tries to hide his race.
Race goes beyond just ethnicity. Race represents much more than just ethnicity. Trying to hide one’s own race is not a commendable behavior at all because one is ultimately throwing away one’s culture, identity, and self-pride by doing so. Race is definitely something that could not be ignored. It is something that a person is born into, and it is definitely something that will stay with the person for the rest of the person’s life. One should take a great pride in his or her race and should never be ashamed of it. Unfortunately, in the book, the narrator eventually chooses to sacrifice his Black race due to the harsh and horrible treatments that the Black race was receiving from the society. It might have been acceptable to some people that he has given up his race due to the harsh conditions, but, in my opinion, as the narrator himself has said it once, “?to forsake one’s race to better one’s condition was no less worthy an action than to forsake one’s country for the same purpose.” (Johnson 190) I believe he should have never surrendered his own race. Rather, I believe he should have at least tried to fight for his own race.