Prejudice Is A Cancer Essay

2167 words - 9 pages

Prejudice is a cancer that spreads hate among its perpetrators and victims alike. In 1930 Langston Hughes penned the novel, Not Without Laughter. This powerful story, written from the perspective of an African-American boy named James “Sandy” Rodgers, begins in the early 1900’s in the small town of Stanton, Kansas. Through the eyes of young Sandy, we see the devastating impact of racism on his family and those they are close to. We also see how the generations of abuse by whites caused a divide within the black community. Among, and even within, black families there were several social classes that seemed to hinge on seeking equality through gaining the approval of whites. The ...view middle of the document...

The band was in full swing when the lead singer, Benbow, came out onto the dance floor and really excited the crowd. Sandy heard someone yell out, “High-yallers, draw nigh! Brown-skins, come near! But black gals, stay where you are!” (63, 64). Later, outside the dance, Hughes describes a scene in which: “a mustard-colored man stood near the door quarreling with a black woman. She began to cry and he slapped her full in the mouth, then turned his back and left with a girl of maple-sugar brown” (69). This was Sandy’s first, but would not be his last, exposure to how skin color affected how desirable someone was. His own mother found his father’s lighter skin tone more appealing and, later in his youth; Sandy was exposed to the talk of the men in the barber shop who also shared these views when it came to the women they were interested in (23, 133). Perhaps one of the most painful early demonstrations to Sandy of the importance of skin color occurred when he and his friend, Willie-Mae, set out to attend the opening day of a new amusement park in Stanton. Sandy and Willie-Mae, along with most of the children in Stanton, had looked forward to it with great anticipation. They both dressed their best and arrived at the park gate, excited the day had finally come, only to be turned away because they were not white. Demonstrating further that skin tone was of high importance, Sandy and Willie-Mae observed their friend, Buster, inside the park enjoying the day. Because of Buster’s lighter skin tone, the man at the gate assumed he was white and allowed him to enter the park (139, 140).

In addition to what the reader observes through the young eyes of Sandy’s character, Hughes implies the importance of skin color by using it as a primary descriptor of the characters in the novel. When we were first introduced to Sandy’s childhood friend, Buster, Hughes described him as a “…small ivory-white Negro child with straight golden hair, which his mother made him wear in curls” (11). Sandy is described as “the shade of nicely browned piece of toast” while another playmate, Willie-Mae, is depicted as “coal-colored” (11, 12).

Another factor in determining a black person’s social status was the church they attended. Although church is a very personal matter of preference, attendance at one or the other (or none at all) reflected on an individual’s standing in society. We are first introduced to religion as a theme in Not Without Laughter when a cyclone strikes the home of Sandy and Aunt Hager, his grandmother. As Aunt Hager holds her grandson during the storm, and then later surveys the damage from it with her neighbors, her faith is apparent. As she exclaimed to her neighbor, “But praise God for sparing our lives! It might’ve been worse, Sister Williams!” (109). Aunt Hager and her friends and neighbors attended the Baptist church and being Christian was clearly at their core. Hager did not look approvingly upon those who behaved in a manner that she did...

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