Race, Class and Citizenship
The book Black Boy is an autobiography that describes a story of hope and determination. It examines the hardship and difficulties faced by a poverty-stricken family and a boy who is determined to escape the circumstances amid the social difference defined by race and class. In the book, the author Richard Wright claims for acceptance of all people despite race or social status.
The book depicts Wright’s childhood and adult life. His life way was characterized by lack of freedom and search for justice. The surrounding was full of violence and unfair relationship. It influenced Wright’s perception of the world and attitude to other people. “Hunger stole upon me so slowly that at first I was not aware what hunger really meant. Hunger had always been more or less at my elbow when I played…. But this new hunger baffled me, scared me, made me angry and insistent” (p. 14). At an age of six years, Richard did not develop a conscious of racial differences. He treated all people with respect. His grandmother was termed white only because he thought that was her natural color. The differences always remained invisible.
The gap between the races was clear. The racial gaps between blacks and whites were not easy to comprehend considering the narrator’s difficulties in understanding his peers. According to the book, blacks and whites lived side by side, but they had never cooperated or had a friendly relationship. The narrator wanted to understand the nature of both races and circumstances that prompted people to treat each other disobligeingly. “What was it that made the hate of whites for blacks so steady, seemingly so woven into the texture of things? What kind of life was possible under that hate? How had this hate come to be?” (p. 164). There was no clear answer, and whenever he asked adults around him, he could only receive punishment. The narrator could not understand why people lived in hate. Although, Richard thought that there were good white people, who had money. He was exposed to the way the world existed. A black man had to act differently to survive around white people. As the writer illustrated when Griggs, Wright’s classmate, tried to show him how to get along with white people. Wright’s friends were submissive to the whites in the public but claimed to hate them. He explained to Wright that the only thing whites wanted was recognition from the blacks that they were white.
Racial discrimination extended to the public services. When Richard was travelling to Aunt Maggie, he noticed that there were separate sections in the train for black and white travelers. Richard tempted to go to the white section. He annoyed his mother, who did not want to tell the ancestry and race of his granny.
There was a clear division of power between whites and blacks. Richard noticed this when he saw a regiment of black solders training and later a chain gang of the blacks working by the roadside and guarded by armed white men. According to Richard, that was a mysterious division of power which could be described as the whites occupied the higher positions while the blacks remained at the lower. The black soldiers volunteer willingly to defend the country from enemies. The chain gang demonstrated the harsh treatment the blacks had received from the country’s judicial justice. It was clear that black people were treated as second-class citizens. Therefore, they could risk their lives to defend their country.
Racial society sparked violence, which aimed at gaining a sense of control and recognition. This explained the need for recognition as coming from a certain class of people who associated together. The boys would continue to express defiance and self-confidence through anti-white declarations as a result of constant oppression by whites. Wright indicated that although they showed how dependent they were upon one another, their fights accomplished nothing significant just like their parent’s conversations about race relations.
It was difficult to get recognition by people who belonged to a different class. Wright gained acceptance through fighting on his first day in school. He hid his poverty from peers, which made him not to associate with the group and got to know them intimately. The naivety of a black man was revealed when Richard stopped selling the paper because it contained news from white supremacist group. The classmate’s father also forbad his son to sell the newspaper. The racial gap was a barrier to earn money.
White community has oppressed black people’s imaginations. The reaction of Richard’s boss when she got to know that Richard was aspiring to become a writer was brutal and contemptuous. “I had once tried to write, had once reveled in feeling, had let my crude imagination roam, but the impulse to dream had been slowly beaten out of me by experience” (p. 249). The difference between white and black communities to Richard’s aspiration showed the degree of indictment of racism in America and black person’s imaginations, which were oppressed. Richard viewed black community as succumbing to the pressure of racism. He expressed black community as drawing their support from binding forces like religion.
Black people suffered because of the difference in class system. White oppressed black because they belonged to lower class. Richard witnessed a black woman beaten by white shopkeepers because she could not pay up the credit installment on her cloth purchase. White people humiliated black customer. A person who passed by Richard and asked to call him sir humiliated the young man. Richard was unable to show humility before the whites to avoid confrontation. He was unable to hide his pride and judgment before whites, which resulted in negative consequences. In order to find the ends meet, one was required to humble himself before the white who were potential employers. Richard could not recognize whites and humble himself before them, which prompted violence in the relationship with the surroundings.
Manipulation was witnessed between the two races. The white manipulated the black people easily causing them to be aggressive to each other. Richard and his friend Harrison felt the frustration of being manipulated just for five dollars. They fought each other to amuse white employees. After the fight, Richard thought that reconciliation should neutralize tension between them, but it only increased the suspicion. Both believed the rumor to some extent not realizing that it was a manipulation.
Race forces prompted a person to break the rules. Richard applied aspects of racism to his advantage to get access to the library material. He used a forged note to acquire a book from the librarian as a means of resisting the common oppression. The racial difference, as illustrated in the book exposed a certain degree of pride. Whites used oppressive measures to achieve power over black people. The racial abuse, according to Wright served as an economic function to whites. Whites denied blacks and their citizenship rights just to exploit their services. Blacks supported white economy for minimal pay. Whites discouraged the migration of black people to the north denying their citizenship rights. When Richard planned to migrate to the north, his white co-workers were quick to reveal their frustration and said that Richard was escaping from his punishing existence to a free one.
The attitude of racial difference affected the narrator even after he had moved to the place, where racial discrimination did not exist. Richard was forced to quit his new job in Chicago simply because he felt ashamed for lying about his absence. He feared that because of his race, the white boss would dismiss him for lying.
In the book, the narrator throws light upon the matters that bring an understanding of the differences in race and how they relate to class and a notion of citizenship. The narrator shows that one has to belong to a recognized class of people in order to be accepted. According to the narrator, the race determines the status of citizenship. The book also shows how people become desperate and oppressed in order to find their ends meet. Poor people are racially discriminated, in this book. Racial discrimination has shown the imbalance of power among whites and blacks raising questions about the citizenship of the blacks. The whites dominate the higher position while the blacks help them realize their power by being the laborers. According to the narrator, the problem of racism is not its existence, but the reality that is rooted in the American culture. There are doubts that the existence of this fact cannot be destroyed without destroying the culture itself. The author states, “Culturally, the Negro represents a paradox: Though he is an organic part of the nation, he is excluded by the entire tide and direction of American culture” (p. 272). Richard observes that racism does not just affect the relationship between blacks and whites, but it influences the relation between blacks.