Black Or White? An Examination Of 'passing' With Reference To: "Autobiography Of An Ex Colored Man" By James Weldon Johnson.

2412 words - 10 pages

"The reasonable man adapts to the world around him.The unreasonable man expects the world to adapt to him.Therefore, all progress is made by unreasonable men."-George Bernard Shaw"I think we Negro Americans have just as many beautifulPeople in mind and boy, as well as skin, as any other group-And that we have just as many stinkers as any other group."-Thurgood MarshallThe book "Autobiography of an Ex-Colored" Man by James Weldon Johnson is the tale of a black man who decides to 'pass' for white. It was released, anonymously, in 1912 then reissued in 1930, fully acknowledging the author's identity. The first edition had been assumed to be an actual nonfiction narrative by its author, and many were understandably surprised when it was realized to be a work of fiction. This was one thing which pleased its Mr. Johnson, because he had intended to write in such a manner that his fiction would be taken for truth and thus open the eyes of America to the social situation in its midst, that being the racism and mistreatment of blacks, and how racism functions in our lives. It served as social commentary, but not any particular judgment or call to change.There are many angles from which to view this book and I would like to touch on a few of them. To examine them from a white, mono-racial point of view may seem inadequate and draw criticism. What do I know about being black or 'passing'? Would some people disregard anything I might have to say because I could not possibly have sympathy for, or empathy with, the black in America? It was once mentioned to me that I really had no need to know what it is like to be black, because I ruled the country. I recognize that as an opinion that exists in the world, possibly even a valid opinion. However, I believe it is important to understand our fellow man, and I reject the notion that one must be some thing in order to understand that thing, or that one must experience some thing in order to feel that experience in a legitimate way. There are many whites who have no problem seeing that it is more difficult to grow up black in America, who can feel with regret the vestiges of racism still lingering in our country. We seethe with anger when we see movies depicting the tortuous existence of blacks in pre-Civil War or post-Civil War South. We cringe with shame when we see our television screens almost completely dark in the aftermath of a disaster that seemed to strike so many poor blacks so much harder than the rest. There are whites who abhor racism out of an insulted sense of justice, and those who simply feel 'white guilt'. It may be true as some have said that the black people of this country know and understand white people better than the white people know and understand them. But my feeling is that this is a statement with as clear a position of bias as any other that can be made. For what is prejudice but a judging of another without knowing their true thoughts, motives, and values? That said, I think I agree...

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