Thursday, October 18, 2007

Extra Credit: The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographicall Sketch by Richard Wright

The thesis of Wright’s article is that African Americans received extremely unfair treatment, even after the emancipation of slavery, particularly when involved in the work force run by white managers, and having to work with white co-workers. This also proves how ineffective the Jim Crow laws were in the south, because even though they were “separate but equal”, it was obvious that African American’s were treated as inferior to the whites.

This article was an autobiographical sketch written by Robert Wright, describing his various experiences being an African American living in the south and having to deal with racism from the whites during the time period after the emancipation of slavery. The first incident in which he realized it was wrong of him to think that it was the whites fault he got hurt was when he was just a boy. Him and some of his other African American friends would play cinder against the white kids who lived across the railroad. This time, instead of having cinders like they are supposed to, the white kids had used broken bottles as a replacement. One of the white boys ended up throwing a broken bottle, which ended up hitting Wright on the back of the head, causing an injury that needed stitches. After he told his mom about the injury, he expected comfort, but instead received a beating. He was “taught” to believe “I was never to fight any more wars. I was never, never, under any conditions, to fight white folks again. And they were absolutely right in clouting me with the broken milk bottle…I ought to be thankful to God as long as I lived that they didn’t kill me” (p.23). After moving and growing up in a black populated area, when he was of age to take on a job and support himself, he ended up having to work with white folks in an optical company. His other jobs included portering in a clothing store, being a bell-boy in a hotel, and another optical company. Throughout all of those jobs, the inferiority of African Americans to whites was distinctly obvious. It was believed to be dangerous for African Americans to be out past sunset, because they would be suspected by the police of doing something against the law. Also, while being a bell-boy in a hotel where the majority of the customers were prostitutes, they had to react to them being nude as though they were looking upon a rug or a lamp. In the elevators one must take their hat off, and were hit for saying “thank you” if a white man took of the black man’s hat for him if he was carrying too much stuff. Even though the Jim Crow laws existed, they were barely enforced. It was apparent that the African Americans had to “know their place” if they were to avoid being injured in any way, shape or form.

The argument in this article would be that the Jim Crow laws were very loosely upheld, especially within the southern states. I agree with Wright on this, because in every situation that was presented in this autobiography, it is clear that even the white policemen couldn’t care less about equal treatment between the blacks and the whites. In the various examples, the blacks were unfairly treated because if a white man were to do the same “mistake” a black man would, the whites would most likely get off with nothing, whereas a black man would be considered “lucky” to walk away with a beating. An example from the reading was when a black man was caught in bed with one of the prostitutes. For a white man, that would be considered normal, but this black man got castrated and run out of the town. The other bell boys were warned and saying they got off “lucky”, and the next person who were caught doing that would probably be in danger of their life.

Overall I thought that the article was a good read. This autobiography kept my attention throughout the entire article. I found the various examples of how African Americans had to “adjust” to the Jim Crow laws very unjust. The way African Americans were treated in the past was very poor, and it is sad that the south saw this treatment as being the right thing to do in society. All of these scenarios were realistic, and unfortunately it was pretty easy to picture these events happening in history, given what we have learned about such treatment through other readings. Overall, I thought that this was a very well written article.

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