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“Exploration On Effects Of Racial Disparities Upon African American Identity And Economic/Social Standing In Mid 19th Century America

1088 words - 4 pages

During the first half of the 19th century, serious issues concerning racial discrimination and civil inequality of African Americans plagued the social, political, and economic structure of the United States. This era that followed the Reconstruction period restored the once white supremacist control of the South. It also led to the implementation of Jim Crow Laws and reduced the status of first-class citizenship of Negroes. Although conditions eventually improved, Negroes were still subjugated to the prejudice of the times and faced exploitation in the workplace. In Invisible Man, Ellison uses the metaphor of the Liberty Paint Factory in Chapter Ten to illustrate the dynamic of American society’s suppression of black identity, presupposition of racist attitude towards Negroes, and repression of social and economic improvement for African Americans.
The Liberty Paint Factory and its “Optic White” premium paint serves as a microcosm of mid-19th century American society and its basest, most fundamental views towards defined roles (treatment) of African Americans in society. This pivotal scene exemplifies the perspective that whites hold regarding blacks. As IM is instructed by Kimbro on his first assignment at the paint factory, he is told to “measure ten drops into the paint,” (Ellison, 1) and stir the mixture until it turned the desired color. However, IM notices that as he “measured the glistening black drops,” they would “settle upon the surface and become blacker” (Ellison, 1). IM obviously sees that the genuine color of the paint is not white; rather, the foundation of the color appears to be black, dark black. This illustrates the subjective views of the white people towards their darker counterparts. Kimbro, as many supremacist whites of the time, chooses to see the white part of the “paint” as the only color present, even though a vast majority of it is not. He embodies the thoughts that white is the superior race, greater than any other. Instead of treating the black paint as a separate component, he ignores it or treats it as part of the whites. The metaphorical view of the paint envelopes the treatment towards blacks during this time. Instead of allowing the African American to be an individual of his own identity and culture, the white suppresses this freedom to define the individual as a separate, unique being different from the whites. This illustrates the treatment of the Negro as an inferior being, lower in respectability and social status than whites. They are seen as taints upon the white sea of dominance. In addition, the name “Optic White” brings to mind that it is a color seen by the eyes, although it may not truly be that color. It is a color that the whites of American society want to perceive, notwithstanding the truth of the real ingredients of the paint. They do not want to see the Negro as a race with its own history and cultural roots, but as a background upon which the whites can “paint” over. ...

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