1940, Native Son

“Down here in Dixie we keep Negroes firmly in their places and we make them know that if they so much as touch a white woman, good or bad, they cannot live.

“When Negroes become resentful over imagined wrongs, nothing brings them to their senses so quickly as when citizens take the law into their hands and make an example out of a trouble-making nigger.

 “Crimes such as the Bigger Thomas murders could be lessened by segregating all Negroes in parks, playgrounds, cafés, theatres, and street cars. Residential segregation is imperative. Such measures tend to keep them as much as possible out of direct contact with white women and lessen their attacks against them.

“We of the South believe that the North encourages Negroes to get more education than they are organically capable of absorbing, with the result that northern Negroes are generally more unhappy and restless than those of the South. If separate schools were maintained, it would be fairly easy to limit the Negroes’ education by regulating the appropriation of moneys through city, county, and state legislative bodies.

“Still another psychological deterrent can be attained by conditioning Negroes so that they have to pay deference to the white person with whom they come in contact. This is done by regulating their speech and actions. We have found that the injection of an element of constant fear has aided us greatly in handling the problem.”

Native Son

That was an excerpt from Richard Wright.’s novel, Native Son, which was published in 1940. Another world?

I was born in North Carolina only a few years after this novel came out. My experience, albeit as a youth, was often sullied by just such sentiments. Although my immediate family never expressed any such prejudice, I can’t speak for all members of my extended family or for many friends or neighbors. In the 1940s, 1950s, and even the 1960s, the problem of racial prejudice was everywhere in this country. Many contend that it still exists, although in a less open and honest manner.

I see racism every day and am not proud to say that I usually avoid conflict with those who drop remarks that are clearly racist, even if they don’t realize how hurtful and evil their remarks actually are. But not always:  I have had more than my share of confrontations and arguments that too often declined into yelling and anger. I think the hardest thing is to convince a racist that they are a racist when they insist that they are not a racist. It might be easier to argue that they are stupid and insensitive.

Here it is the end of 2013 and there are still people who consider other people inferior to them; and not just racial prejudice: let’s not forget the pervasive misogyny being exposed almost daily, especially in the party of old white men.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, for all his faults, is still my hero.

One thought on “1940, Native Son

  1. It’s hard to determine between “racial prejudice” and “pervasive misogyny” which one is being eliminated the slowest.


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