Black Boy

From Black Boy by Richard Wright:

(Color hate defined the place of black life as below that of white life; and the black man, responding to the same dreams as the white man, strove to bury within his heart his awareness of this difference because it made him lonely and afraid. Hated by whites and being an organic part of the culture that hated him, the black man grew in turn to hate in himself that which others hated in him. But pride would make him hide his self-hate, for he would not want whites to know that he was so thoroughly conquered by them that his total life was conditioned by their attitude; but in the act of hiding his self-hate, he could not help but hate those who evoked his self-hate in him. So each part of his day would be consumed in a war with himself, a good part of his energy would be spent in keeping control of his unruly emotions, emotions which he had not wished to have, but could not help having. Held at bay by the hate of others, preoccupied with his own feelings, he was continuously at war with reality. He became inefficient, less able to see and judge the objective world. And when he reached that state, the white people looked at him and laughed and said:

Black Boy

(“Look, didn’t I tell you niggers were that way?”

(To solve this tangle of balked emotion, I loaded the empty part of the ship of my personality with fantasies of ambition to keep it from toppling over into the sea of senselessness. Like any other American, I dreamed of going into business and making money; I dreamed of working for a firm that would allow me to advance until I reached an important position; I even dreamed of organizing secret groups of blacks to fight all whites…And if the blacks would not agree to organize, then they would have to be fought. I would end up again with self-hate, but it was now a self-hate that was projected outward upon other blacks. Yet I knew—with that part of my mind that the whites had given me—that none of my dreams was possible. Then I would hate myself for allowing my mind to dwell upon the unattainable. Thus the circle would complete itself.

(Slowly I began to forge in the depths of my mind a mechanism that repressed all the dreams and desires that the Chicago streets, the newspapers, the movies were evoking in me. I was going through a second childhood; a new sense of the limit of the possible was being born in me. What could I dream of that had the barest possibility of coming true? I could think of nothing. And, slowly, it was upon exactly that nothingness that my mind began to dwell, that constant sense of wanting without having, of being hated without reason. A dim notion of what life meant to a Negro in America was coming to consciousness in me, not in terms of external events, lynchings, Jim Crowism, and the endless brutalities, but in terms of crossed-up feeling, of psyche pain. I sensed that Negro life was a sprawling land of unconscious suffering, and there were but few Negroes who knew the meaning of their lives, who could tell their story.)


This ostensibly was the opinion of the author and it is presumably meant to reflect an attitude prevalent in the early part of the Twentieth Century. A lot has happened in the ninety intervening years from the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Panthers and a great deal of Federal legislation that, although often flawed, went a long way to bringing some equality amongst the races. Gosh, even George Wallace came around eventually and admitted that his firm stance on the separation of the races was wrong.

Of course nowadays, despite what some judicial groups may say, there is still a great deal of prejudice, albeit often cloaked in metaphors like thuggery or food stamps, and the prejudice is clearly aimed at not just African-Americans but also any race or nationality that conservative America deems threatening to the white-based hegemony.

One note about Wright’s book: the characters are negroes, black, and even niggers, but there is not a single reference to Africa in the text. As a long-time Welsh-British-American I would prefer that we all simply be called Americans.

2 thoughts on “Black Boy

  1. It has been a long time but didn’t Wright get involved in a “back to Africa” group in Chicago?


    1. You’re right! The Garveyites. But Wright referenced that group in a way that seems consistent with my suggestion that Black Boy was not about an “African-American”:

      “I pitied them too much to tell them that they could never achieve their goal, that Africa was owned by the imperial powers of Europe, that their lives were alien to the mores of the natives of Africa, that they were people of the West and would forever be so until they either merged with the West or perished.”


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