I am and always have been a reader. On occasion I will read something which has a profound impact on me. This is the case with a book I recently finished, Native Son by Richard Wright.
Native Son, a novel published in 1940, tells the story of “Bigger”, an African American boy who represents the oppression of their race during that era. A lot of progress has been made in the past 75 or so years since the book was written, but the treatment of persons of African-American decent by the white race during that time period is disgraceful.
While we all know that there are prejudicial attitudes in this country as demonstrated in recent times by the brutality shown against black men by those of law enforcement without just cause, we at least have progressed to a point where derogatory terminology and failing to recognize the race as having intelligence on the equivalent with others is no longer accepted.
The novel takes place twenty years prior to my birth. Growing up in the 1960’s I remember racial riots, derogatory references to the race in general, and other such behavior, but not to the degree which I encountered in this book. What I found most disturbing was the de-humanizing of the race in general. They were compared to apes, considered to be so lacking in intelligence that they could not plan anything. After being arrested they were rushed through the judicial system without sufficient time for proper trial preparation and were tried in front of a jury panel of all white men.
If you research racial injustice for the 1940’s you will find that the treatment of “Bigger” portrayed in the novel is a very accurate representation of the mindset during that era. Lynchings were common for anything and everything considered inappropriate. NAACP members campaigning to get those of African American decent the vote where removed from their homes and lynched. A 26-year old man was lynched for failing to address a police officer as “Mr.” If a white woman was attacked it was assumed that a black man had committed the crime and the “suspect” would often be captured and lynched. Justice did not prevail.
White workers would strike or riot against any black man that received even a minimal promotion at work. A 15-year old boy was lynched for writing a card that revealed his crush on a white girl. A 14-year old was sent to the electric chair after being accused in the disappearance of white girls and a 16-year old went to the electric chair after being convicted of killing a pharmacist; he was not properly represented at trial. The list goes on, but this sampling gives you a taste of what life was like for those of African American decent in the 1940s.
In all fairness I must mention that those of black skin tone are not the only race the white Americans have discriminated against. President Roosevelt issued an executive order after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and all of Japanese decent were gathered and placed in camps that were the equivalent of prisons. They were surrounded by barbed wire and conditions were deplorable. Latinos were beaten by soldiers because it was assumed they were the cause of crime in California. The discrimination continues to this day.
Even now many white American’s behave in a discriminatory manner against those of other nationalities. It doesn’t matter whether they are of Mexican/Spanish decent, Asian, African, Calderon, or any other nationality, if they do not have white skin they have most likely suffered some form of racial profiling and/or discrimination.
Why do the white Americans think that they are better than others? The white man invaded this country and then forced the Native Americans away from their territory. From the time they set foot on this land white men have forced their way into control and oppression of those of a different cultural. religious or financial background. The white man has proven himself to be a race of bullies.
We have come a long way in the acceptance of others since the 1940’s when Native Son was written….a book in which a 17 year old boy was sent to the electric chair for the murder of a wealthy white girl. Although the book is a fictional writing, is is a very good replication of the era in which it was created. Although those of African American decent are now given the same rights of due process as all others, discriminatory behavior continues to exist.
Every race has persons who have good behavior and persons who exhibit bad behavior. The realities of racial profiling are evidenced in the behavior seen on our own TV screens and the treatment those of non-white race are frequently subject to…and far too often by those who are supposed to uphold the law. When will the American white citizen learn to treat all other American citizens as equals and not make assumptions on the way a person will behave based on the color of their skin? That is a question that will likely remain unanswered for a long time.