, Research Paper
Racism through a Little Boy s Eyes
Racism is a difficult topic to understand. Viewing racism through the eyes of a young boy named Richard Wright gives the reader the feeling of understanding the horrific life he grew up in. The style of Wright s first-person narrative generalizes his own experience to draw conclusion about the manner in which society functions. Richard Wright was unfolding the awareness and consciousness of race and of the relationship between blacks and whites by living through it first hand.
Beginning with the first chapter of Black Boy we start to encounter the first awareness Richard Wright has about blacks and whites. He is fearful of his mother s beatings, careful to avoid his father, and deathly afraid of his granny s white image (23). Richard Wright, at the age of four years, mimics what he sees in his environment; when Wright ties a make shift noose, he mimics the hanging of black men, an image prevalent during an era dominated by the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crows segregation laws. Wright portrays innocence in his everyday childhood by not expressing his feelings to others. Wright possesses a mischievous spirit and is not sure of how the world works. Richard hears through out the community that a white man beat a black boy, Richard becomes bewildered with confusion asking his mother why did the white man whip the black boy (24). Wright is still unaware of the social relationship between blacks and white. To me [whites] were merely people like other people, (23) he says. Little by little Richard is starting to become a conscious about what is happening.
A device that Richard Wright employs in Black Boy is dualism, specifically between black and white. There is a constant play of words off the notion of black and white. Richard s white-looking grandmother (23), the white man who beats the black boy (24), the white boat he dreams of (9), and the black-and-white zebras he spots (59). This dualism imagery is a reflection of the dualism that Wright experiences in society, between the black community and the white community.
When Wright leaves his grandmother s house, Richard s mom has left a sharp lasting impression of the relationship between whites and blacks by explaining what the black-and white zebras were. Uncle Hoskins owned a saloon that catered to blacks that worked in the sawmills. Uncle Hoskins always left to work in the white area neighborhood were the whites disliked him. One morning Uncle Hoskins fails to return home. At dinnertime, the family learned that white men who coveted his successful business shot Uncle Hoskins. Quickly, the family packs their clothes and dishes into a farmer s wagon, and without a funeral leave back to Granny s house. Richard experiences and feels racism first hand.
Richard Wright begins to understand more about the social relations between blacks and whites. But unlike his mother, his indifference feelings for the white community stems much deeper than racial injustice. A part of Wright s internalization of emotion causes him to place the anger he has built toward his parents and others into his anger towards whites. He describes how upon hearing rumors about racial beatings and murders he began to imagine men, against whom he was powerless, giving meaning to confused defensive feeling that had long been sleeping (74). White people begin to become symbolic of his general opposer, representing every fear and authority figure that had once intimated Richard Wright despite the fact that he himself had never been abused by whites.
In Chapter 3, Wright as a black boy is isolated from the world of the white people, but this isolation is felt within his own race as well. Within his black community he is never able to find confidents and does not allow himself to reveal his feelings to anyone. When he enters into the gang, he seems to find comrades among his fellow gang members, but their relationship is superficially based on their similar racial prejudice rather than friendship. The racial tension between blacks and whites is the only common factor that Wright seems to share with those he befriends.
Richard Wright on one occasion starts selling newspapers in his neighborhood to earn money. One day a family friend who regularly buys newspapers ask Wright if he knows what he is selling. The man sits Wright down, showing him the racist propaganda and the Ku Klux Klan articles in the paper. The old man said: Your re a black boy and you re trying to make a few pennies and then saying, If you sell em, your re just helping white people to kill you (131). Disgusted with his own ignorance, Wright throws his papers away and never sells them again, and also becoming more consciously aware of the racism that surrounds him.
Chapter 6, an integral part of Wright s maturation is learning how to interact with others including white people. Before his job, Richard has never really been informed about the relationship between whites and blacks. In his childhood, the value placed on one s race was learned second-hand, from his relatives, peers, and elders. When he takes his first job in the home of the white woman, Richard experiences first-hand the prejudice he has only heard or dreamed about. The woman had assaulted my ego; she had assumed that she knew my place in life, what I felt, what I ought to be, and I resented it with all my heart (147).
He is treated without respect and without human decency; Wright realizes that because he is black, he is not expected to set goals for himself, to achieve or to succeed. It may seem that the white woman simply echoes what Wright s relatives have some to believe, but her words are ten times worse because it is an opinion based on speculation and assumption coming out a white woman s mouth.
Perhaps worst of all, Richard realizes that to survive in the white world, he must be broken of his will. Before his job, Richard had been shielded within the black community. After being scolded and put down by the white woman, he learns whites expect him to be subservient and stupid. Anything else would be considered sassy (146). Wright must learn that he cannot run away from prejudice. The racism he encountered at his first job is prevalent everywhere in the South, and Richard must learn to react. Little by little with his interaction with white people, Wright learns more about their rejection attitude towards black people. He is treated inhumanely when he is not given medical attention for the dog bite (162). Wright notices through observation that whites carry the attitude that black laborers are unsusceptible to anything.
Wright becomes more conscious about the brutality and conduct of the racially oppressed South in Chapter 8. Wright sees Ned, his classmate, sitting on his porch. He learns that some white men have murdered Ned s brother, Bob. Bob had been a hotel porter and the men had not approved of his activities with a white prostitute. Richard is getting conscious of how he shouls act around whites.
Chapter 9, Wright experiences racial violence firsthand when he begins to work in town. Inexperienced in his new environment, Wright finds it difficult to act properly the way Griggs (a long time friend) acts. Growing up with broken schooling and in the black community, Richard has learned to be self-sufficient and defiant. Racism is produced by ignorance, and Wright portrays that to think that a black man must act as ignorant as his white counterpart. A black man must laugh and talk, and act grateful towards a white man; it is not enough to simply be of a lower class. Wright must learn to mask his hatred and true feelings in order to survive in the South. He lit his (cigarette) and held the match for me. This was a gesture of kindness, indicating that, even if they had beaten the black woman, they would not beat me if I knew how to keep my mouth shut (180).
Finally in chapter 10 Wright grows more conscious of the roles that other black boys assume in their jobs. Without knowing the right words to say to his white boss, he losses his job very quickly. At this time Wright is in his pivotal moment because he realizes that in order to survive the South, he must obey rather than challenge those who suppress him. It is then that he realizes in order to accomplish his goals, he must leave for the North leaving his mother behind I was going to the north to precisely to change (256).
Richard Wright comes to realize the social cycle in the relationship between whites and blacks in the South. The black workers that Wright observes fall into stealing and cheating because they feel justified by the poor treatment they receive from their white bosses. In turn, the white bosses feel justified in their racist attitude by black workers who cheat and steal. Richard Wright life was very hard to live. He had seen and felt everything from being pregnant with poverty to witnessing killings and violence, but in spite of his environment, Wright still wished to learn and set positive goals for himself.