Essay, Research Paper: Jim Crow By Wright

Literature: Civil War

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Jim Crow is an autobiographical account of author Richard Wright’s education
in race relations in a totally segregated south. Wright talks about his
experiences growing up in the south and the racism he encountered. He attempts
to show us what being on the receiving end of racism is really like, and the
lessons he learned from them. I believe that Wright’s intended audience seems
to be directed towards white people so that they may gain an understanding of
the hardships blacks went through early in our nations history. Wright starts
off by explaining where he grew up. The house he lived in was located behind the
railroad tracks and his “skimpy yard was paved with cinder blocks” (600). To
see green you had to look beyond the railroad tracks to the white’s section of
town. I felt that here the author seemed to know that there was a difference
between the two, but at his young age he did not understand why the two were
different. In the first part of the article Wright describes a fight that he
gets into with some white boys and the punishment he receives from his mother
for it. His mother tells him that he is “never, never, under any conditions,
to fight white folks again” (601). She goes on to say that he should be
thankful that the white kids didn’t kill him. I think that in telling Wright
this, his mother is teaching him that blacks are not as good as whites and that
he should be thankful that they allow blacks to exist in the same world as the
whites. Wright goes on describing different jobs he had and the dealings he had
with his white bosses. In one section the author talks about watching his white
boss drag and kick a black woman into the store where he worked. After a few
minutes the woman comes out bloody and crying. The author explains what happened
with some of his black co-workers. None of them are surprised by this and one
adds that she was lucky to just have been beaten and not raped as well. I think
the author here is showing that blacks in the early south were almost immune to
this type of racism. It is so commonplace that the blacks hardly blink when it
happens. Wright later talks about moving to a larger city and the interactions
he had with the white people there. The author explains that the whites there
were a little more accepting, and would actually hold conversations with the
blacks. The author points out that caution must be used when talking with whites
on subjects like the Ku Klux Klan, Abraham Lincoln, the civil war, and “any
topic calling for positive knowledge or manly self-assertion on the part of the
Negro” (610), should be avoided. Throughout this article Wright talks about
learning his “Jim Crow lessons.” Jim Crow refers to the name of a character
in minstrelsy (in which white performers in blackface used African American
stereotypes in their songs and dances); it is not known how it became a term
describing racial segregation. The term Jim Crow's literal definition means
“separate but still equal.” I believe the author finds the part about being
equal very ironic with his title and when he mentions his “Jim Crow
lessons.” The last part of the article describes how blacks felt about the way
they had to live. A friend of the author summed it up by saying, “Lawd, man!
Ef it wuzn’t fer them polices ‘n’ them ol’ lynch-mobs, there wouldn’t
be nothin’ but uproar down here!” (610). With this, I believe, the author
has come to the realization that when it comes to racism, the blacks in the
south knew about it, received it frequently, and came to accept it and the
atrocities that come with it.
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