Racism in Wright’s Black Boy
The theme of Richard Wright’s autobiography Black Boy is racism. Wright
grew up in the deep South; the Jim Crow South of the early twentieth century.
From an early age Richard Wright was aware of two races, the black and the white.
Yet he never understood the relations between the two races.The fact that he
didn’t understand but was always trying to, got him into trouble many times.
When in Memphis, Wright reluctantly assumed the role society dictated for him,
the role of a black boy. He became a black boy for the sole purpose of survival,
to make enough money to eventually move North where he could be himself.
As an innocent child Wright sees no difference between the blacks and
the whites. Yet he is aware of the existence of a difference. “My grandmother
who was as “white” as any “white” person, had never looked “white” to me.”
(Wright pg. 31). This statement shows his confusion about blacks and whites.
When, as a child Wright learned of a white man beating a black boy he believed
that the white man was allowed to beat the black child. Wright did not think
that whites had the right to beat blacks because of their race. Instead he
assumed that the white man was the black boy’s father. When Wright learned that
this was not true, and that the boy was beaten because of his race, he was un
able to rationalize it. Even as he got older he didn’t see the color of people.
In one instance Richard and a friend are standing outside a shop when some white
people pass by, Richard doesn’t move to accomodate the white people because he
simple didn’t notice that they were white.
As a child, Wright ultimately learned to fear white people. However, he
still did not understand the social differences between the races. Wright’s
uncle was killed by white people, and Wright’s aunt and another uncle were
forced to flee from the whites.
When Wright asks his mother about these incidents she tells him , “You
keep your mouth shut or the white folks ll get you too.” As a teenager Wright
learns that a friend’s brother was killed by a white man. When he hears about
this killing he seems unable to do anything other than sit and think about the
incident. Subsequently Wright’s perception of the relations between blacks and
whites becomes even more negative. The whites he encounters while working are
resentful of him. They not only beat him, but try to force him to fight other
blacks. Wright sees that the whites he encounters will do anything possible to
belittle black people. Wright begins to live his entire life in fear of doing
or saying the wrong thing and thereby subjecting himself to the wrath of the
whites.He realizes that even a minor mistake in action or word could lead to
For most of his life, Wright had dreams of leaving the South. As a
young teenager he says, “I dreamed of going north and writing books, novels.
The North symbolized to me all that I had not felt and seen.” (Wright pg.186 ).
In Black Boy Wright admits that his goal was not to go North, but to escape the
South. Wright believed that the North was a haven from the racial prejudices
and injustices that characterized the South. His ultimate and all consuming
goal was to reach the North. To achieve this he betrayed his moral beliefs,
doing things and succumbing to powers and beliefs that he said he never would.
For the first time in his life he stole. More importantly he allowed himself to
become a “good nigger” by mindlessly obeying the whites and pretending to have
no identity and no intelligence of his own. He did all of this to reach the
North and hopefully the life he had always wanted.
There are many themes in Black Boy. All of them are directly or
indirectly the product of racism. Wright is hungry because his mother, a black
woman, cannot find a job that pays well. Wright tries to rebel against the
restraints society placed upon his race. He feels isolated because he questions
the relations between the races and because he will not submit to the demands
of a racist society.I liked this book because it tells of the experiences that
many people will never encounter. It has enlightened me. Before reading this
book I could not have imagined the horrific truths of only a short while ago, in
a place not so far away. Everyone could gain something from this book, for me it
demonstrates that the human race was not, and is not as civilized as it appears.