The Ethics Of Living Jim Crow

1134 words - 5 pages

Richard Wright's "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow" illustrates his cruel childhood lesson of how he learned to live and survive with the degradation and discrimination that was prominent in the South. In this essay, Wright talks about the lessons he learned growing up regarding the proper way to act around white people in order to be safe and avoid confrontation. Whites viewed themselves as superior to blacks and acted in ways to reinforce this idea. Their oppressive actions create social pressures and consequences that make blacks act in certain ways to avoid the common lynchings or beatings. The majority of blacks accept their inferior role because they viewed it as impossible to escape due ...view middle of the document...

Whites do not want their society threatened so they create rules to oppress the blacks. He knew that attempting to defy the superiority of the white man could be dangerous. In the South, any black man blurring the racial segregation often faced death by lynching. The extreme nature of these punishments depicted the whites dominance and efforts to maintain their social structure.
The white dominance caused the majority of blacks to accept their role forced upon them by whites. They accept their lower social status with defeated attitudes, believing that it is the only way they can survive and not having hope of improving their lives. This is known as Cognitive Dissonance, which occurs when a persons thoughts and actions do not match up and therefore one must change. Wright portrays the importance and prevalence of this attitude through his mother's words "and they were absolutely right in clouting you with the broken milk bottle.” By using his mother, he shows how he grew up surrounded by blacks that have given in to the oppression. This attitude is shown again when he tells about how he lost his first job. They told him that he "must never again attempt to exceed his boundaries.” The folks at home and his mother strongly believed this was their best course of action because it guaranteed survival. There was the possibility that they feared the consequences, but more importantly, they believed that any other action was futile because the oppression was even backed by the government.
The Negro maid provides an example of the attitude of futility. "Don't be a fool. Yuh couldn't help it." She has been drilled to think that Wright had no power to do anything and if he stood up to the watchman who disrespected her. He surely would have been beaten anyways. But he portrays this attitude as staying in their place and obeying all commands by a white man. They accept the role with almost no hesitation and embarrassment, which is sharply different from his view.
Rather than accepting the social situation and acting like other blacks did, Wright learned to develop subtle ways to defy the whites. He defied them by daring to ask a white man if he could sign out books from the library under his name. By doing so, his...

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