Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Ethics of living Jim Crow

What would possess someone to behave in such a cruel manner?  It goes way beyond ignorance. For a lack of a better term, I’m going to call it institutionalized hatred.  Both the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” and the reading “Ethics of living Jim Crow” by Richard Wright, give a tiny glance of the calamities and atrocities that our fellow humans had to endure because of this institutionalized hatred. It is clear to me that I will never understand the reason why history unfolded the way it did. In analyzing readings, documentaries, and paintings I hope to pay respect and empathize more with a wounded people. Wounded very much like my own people in the different hemisphere.
                In his autobiographical sketch, Wright narrates living injustice as law. His first lesson as black American was given by his mother.  How do you explain to a child, your own child that he was lucky, the deep gush that bleeds perfusely behind his ear was the only consecuence for him interacting with a white group of rotten kids. The message that his mother tried to inculcate in him thru a beating seems to echo throughout the reading. The institutionalized hatred on the part of whites translated into a sense of conformism and self worth.  Wright thought that him as a black man was lucky to be humiliated, lucky to be beat, exploited at work. Like his life did not belong to him and his destiny was in the hands of the whites, that he was lucky to be allowed to live.
                Watching others suffer is another hard lesson to digest. When the woman was taken to the back of the store by those two white men, he knew that he could not do anything for her. Imagine even if he tried to help, not only he would get himself beat or kill but it would fuel those men hatred more and the old woman would still suffer the wrath of the white man. He also mentions the young man that was forced to marry one of the black maids at the hotel where he, Wright worked. It is implied that the poor girl was raped by a white man, to pour salt in her wound, whenever they spoke of her misfortune it was like a joke to laugh at.
                It is no coincidence that Langston Hughes wrote about black artist wanting to be just artist, in “The Negro artist and the Racial Mountain”.  Generations of living “Jim Crows lessons” influenced every aspect of life.


  1. Great overview of Wright's essay - we tend to think 'how could people have been like that' - but there are many times where such cruelty is a whole system, where it's seen as 'just the way things are.'

    Your last sentence is interesting to me. What do you think Wright would make of Hughes' argument? It might be that not writing about race would be impossible for someone who's lived through what Wright did.

  2. It is difficult to believe that bus segregation was found unconstitutional only about 54 years ago. Maybe today the topic of all writing is not race related but in my opinion any and every topic written by those whose families were affected, is influenced by race. some more than others and the influence is most likely subconscious.

  3. Interesting - we're going to look at how the discourse around race changed - but didn't go away - after the civil rights movement.