Willful Ignorance in Les Blancs
Race relations is a constant effort of identifying with one another. However, it is difficult to identify with another race when one is not able or willing to know about the other. While Charlie and Tshembe both have experience with Western culture, there still remains a sense of ignorance between the two. Despite Charlie's desire to build a bridge between himself and Tshembe, their relationship doesn't extend beyond the superficial higher level. Part of this is due to their own stubbornness, but there are many other factors to their broken relationship. Charlie's and Tshembe's ignorance of each other's culture and individual personality remains constant not because it cannot be overcome, but because of their unwillingness to admit and shed their own ignorance.
While many would attribute the ignorance of another race to a white person, it is ironically Tshembe who makes the first blatantly cultural stereotype. He tells Charlie, "American straightforwardness is almost as disarming as Americans invariably think it is" (Hansberry 73). This statement immediately tells Charlie that he is going to be classified as little more than an American by Tshmebe, and that it may be difficult for the two to form a relationship. This reversal of the characters' stereotypical roles in ignorance is also evident in the form of Tshembe's defensive assumptions about Charlie. After Tshembe defensively responds to one of Charlie's questions, saying he has only one wife, Tshembe says, "It may be, Mr. Morris, that I have developed counter assumptions because I have had . . . too many long, lo-o-ong 'talks' wherein the white intellectual begins by suggesting not only fellowship but the universal damnation of imperialism" (Hansberry 73). Charlie responds, "I see that you are outraged by others' assumptions but that you are full of them! Let's get a simple thing understood: I am not a hundred other people" (Hansberry 73). The powerful exchange between the two characters underlines one of the primary problems of racial ignorance, that some white people, in their own attempt to build a cultural bridge between themselves and another race, end up making statements that end up sounding superficial and foolish. Rather than stepping towards racial acceptance with their statements, these people drive another culture further from it. In addition, since the ignorance of white people of another race has been more often the rule than the exception, other races sometimes stereotype the white people as being such. Tshembe classifies Charlie as the stereotypical white male rather than looking beneath the surface. Both the failed attempts to build a cultural bridge, and the reverse stereotyping, create an unfortunate situation in which there is mutual ignorance between the two races.
The ignorance doesn't stop at the cultural level, however. In Les Blancs, Hansberry adds the element of personal ignorance to race relations. While cultural...