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Black Boy and Separate Pasts, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1189

Essay

Introduction

The 20th Century has brought forward the issues of racism (hidden and open) in the American society. In the United States, racism often manifested itself in the form of oppression. The below essay is examining the theme of oppression and degradation of African Americans through the analysis of two different texts: Black Boy, and Separate Pasts.

The thesis of the current essay the author would like to prove through the texts’ analysis is that both authors are highlighting the impact of racism, segregation, and hidden oppression on children’s socialization in different Southern American towns.

Theme Analysis

Lack of Hope and Opportunities

Hopelessness and segregation are in the focus of both of the books. In Black Boy, Richard states: “I knew that I lived in a country in which the aspirations of black people were limited, marked off” (Wright, 1945, p. 178). He later experiences that he has to either stay within the boundaries and do as he is told, or not manage his life. When he is told by the school principle to read the graduated script written by him, and not his own, he is threatened. At the age of sixteen, he still does not understand why he has to accept injustice, segregation, and prejudice as a “black boy”. The professor tells him: “Learn the world you’re living in”. (Wright, 1945, p. 175)

Official Segregation

Police siding with white people and the ignorance of authorities regarding the atrocities against Black people is also a main theme. In Black Boy. Richard does not understand why people put up with this type of treatment. He is determined not to. He refuses to give in and conform. Similarly, resisting segregation is the major theme of Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. Both of the characters understand that there is no use trying to resist the social order of racism. As the author puts it: “For a black in Wade to have challenged openly and directly the segregationist regime would have been unthinkable, at least before the end of the decade. To express resentment openly, even in jest, could have proved fatal.” (McLaurin, 1998, p. 135)

Economic Impacts of Segregation

Economic and job prospects of Black people are described as limited by both authors. McLaurin (1998) describes events when Blacks were fired without any reason given, discriminated against in court, and by police. McLaurin (1998) confirms the relationship between racial exclusion, segregation, and poverty, claiming that ““the connection between their poverty and their race was all too obvious” (p. 134). Likewise, Wright (1945) tells the reader about the poverty his family had to face: “Inability to pay rent forced us to moved into a house perched a top high logs in a section of the town where flood waters came” (p. 72).

Individual Methods of Dealing with Segregation

The characters of the two books are trying to deal with the impact of segregation on their lives in a different way. Wright (1945,  p. 179) states: “I knew what was wrong with me, but I could not correct it. I had begun coping with the white world too late”. When Richard begins to work in a hotel with black boys, he suddenly feels relieved. He does not have to think twice again before he acts, speaks, or reacts. He sees other boys taking the roles on “that the white race had mapped up for them” (1945, p. 175). Wright (1945) calls the South “hostile and forbidding”.

Escaping to the North

Richard does not accept his inferiority at all. He comes to contact with white men late, and he starts to observe them as much as he can. He hears rumors that they kill black men without being punished for murder. He does not understand why this is accepted by the majority of  “negroes”, and he wants to fight. When he realizes that the South is not receptive to his ideas of making something of himself, he decides to move. He is full of fear and anger, and he decides that if the law is ignored when it comes to whites killing black, he should not obey them, either. He steals in order to get enough money to get away. He deals with segregation by escaping the South.

Quiet Resistance

McLaurin (1998) also talks about characters in the book who resisted segregation. A the civil rights movement did not reach Wade, and blacks simply accepted their treatment, many realized that there was no reason why they should be considered inferior to whites. Some of these characters, like Miss Carrie, Jerome, and Street resent the fact that they are treated differently because of their skin color, but keep quiet about their feelings, just like Richard. Both of the books feature characters who have tried to fight but did not see any hope for winning the case. Richard’s mother refuses to talk about blacks and whites, point blank. White parents in Separate Pasts also avoid talking about race with their children. The next generation of both books, however, grows up to become educated, realize their self-worth, and question. Just like Richard is questioning why the different treatment of blacks and whites exists, McLaurin is trying to make sense of prejudice. Growing up in a different world, learning to appreciate other, the two authors reflect on their experience of segregation, prejudice, and discrimination they witnessed in their childhood.

Conclusion     

Both of the authors reflect on the impact of racism, segregation, and separateness on their socialization. They resist conforming with norms, and cannot make sense of differentiated treatment for whites and blacks. They question the reasons behind social norms, and they find none. Both of the analyzed books tell the reader that there is no logical explanation for treating Blacks and Whites differently. It cannot be justified, and segregation is in many ways abused by the characters of the books to exploit blacks. The common theme of the two books is that the authors are trying to show the humanity of blacks and whites through their experiences. While they were written at different times, racial tension can be sensed through the writings of the authors. Both works describe racial issues in America from a different perspective, and in a different historical period, but injustice, limited opportunity, and helplessness are present throughout the chapters.

The initial thesis of the current essay, therefore, can be confirmed: both Wright and McLaurin talk about their childhood experiences related to racism, and they claim that it has shaped their adulthood, career choice, personality, and overall future. They are the new generation, who are unable to make sense of racism. As McLaurin (1998, p. 97) says: “It wasn‟t fair and I knew it, and I found that knowledge troublesome”. Similarly, Wright talks about knowing and being unable to change norms as follows: “I was learning rapidly how to watch white people, to observe their every move, every fleeting expression, how to interpret what was said, and what was left unsaid.”. But both authors clearly indicate that they disagree with the order they live in, and attempt to live their lives a different way.

References

McLaurin, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press

Wright, Richard. (1945) Black Boy. New York: Harper and Row

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