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Black Writers on What It Means to Be White, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 553

Essay

In David R. Roediger’s article, “Black Writers on What It Means to Be White,” the author examines how the history of African Americans is a history born in observance of whites. This occurs, as Roediger’s article begins, on the slave auction block. Slaves would examine their potential owners; sizing up their clothes to see if they were wealthy or on the decline, how they looked at the slaves (was it a leering look), or even how they talked (discerning what neighborhood and or state they hailed from). Roediger goes on to state that this observation of whites by blacks allows blacks to know the white race better than they know themselves. Meaning, that since blacks are examining whites constantly and for nuance, these observations lead to a better understanding of their behavior. Roediger also cites James Baldwin’s statements about whites confessing to blacks because they knew that no one would believe the blacks. Thus, whites were able to tell their darkest secrets to the black race without fear of retribution or lack recondite behavior because a black person’s reputation wasn’t in good standing with society at the time. In fact, for years African Americans were left off of juries because of this fear white people had about African Americans knowing too many secrets and being in too close observance of white’s negative behavior.

Roediger also points out that African American literature has been dismissed by whites. He cites Moyer’s interview of Toni Morrison: one of the most significant works of African Americans discussing white behavior was with her book “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination”. Roediger calls this book one of the most significant works about this subject, but it was so little recognized during its publication that Moyer was able to ask “when the writing on whites was to come”.

Another point Roediger makes is the complicated relationship between white and black homosexuals. Roediger uses Baldwin’s experience in this realm to highlight his point: Baldwin states that the men’s room was an interesting place for such philandering. Baldwin states that white men would look over or up in the stalls next to African American men and that there was this strange dichotomy of hatred and lust from the whites. This dichotomy was emphasized by Baldwin when he states, “the men alternated between gay sexuality and homophobic violence”. In either author’s statement (Baldwin and Morrison) there seems to be a pattern about dismissal from whites towards blacks.

In my opinion, Roediger is legitimized in that there has been dismissal of whites towards blacks, but the blanket statements that Roediger makes such as blacks know all Nordic dispositions/opinions/behaviors is false. It is false because it focuses on one section of humanity, and a the culture of the south and is not endemic of how blacks and whites behave with each other in the rest of the world. Roediger’s opinions are anchored to a specific bigotry. There are still race problems in the United States between whites and blacks (the KKK is still a cult, the Black Panthers are still happening). These problems may not define an entire racial approach however; meaning, this does not dictate how one race treats another race in modern America. Not in blanket terms at least. My question to the class is this: why does racism  still exist in America?

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