The Relationship between Race, Social Movement, and Citizenship: Personal Opinion and Response to Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody
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As a memoir of an African-American woman who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, Coming of Age in Mississippi is most suitable for a discussion on race, social movement, and citizenship. In this paper, I will consider some of the key topics that Moody raises in her work and dwell on my response to them.
The form of a memoir allows demonstrating how Moody grows to understand the politics of race and citizenship and how this understanding prepares her to fight for her rights. Moreover, it can be stated that the memoir is devoted to this increasing understanding to a large extent. The four parts of the work do not show the life of a girl as we are used to it; rather, they show the psychological, educational, and emotional maturation of a woman as a citizen who begins to find the meaning of her life in the participation in social movements and grows to incorporate race into her understanding of herself.
The fourth part of the work is titled “The Movement.” The author does not state the full name of the movement, which implies its importance and uniqueness for herself and the rest of society. It becomes the final part of the work, thus demonstrating the growth and maturation of Anne as a citizen and a person who is willing to engage in a fight for her rights and the rights of other citizens.
While mostly innocent, Anne’s childhood brings along questions, and she begins to see the social difference between the white and the black intuitively, without knowing what citizenship or society means. During her high school years, Moody begins to understand them to a greater extent. I think that this approach to depicting the question is insightful: even nowadays, when the politics of race is studied at school, young children are rarely capable of applying their knowledge to the real society.
However, nowadays children receive explanations, guidelines, and tips, and Moody’s questions were brushed off. As a result, even though I still believe that the greatest awareness develops at an older age, nowadays we have a bigger chance to develop it earlier and easier. For Anne, the late development of awareness was completely justified. Moreover, it was mostly deliberate as the reluctance of Anne’s mother to respond to any questions on the issue demonstrates that it was actively silenced.
Because she had no one to talk to about this issue, Anne’s revelation was linked to terrible wrongdoing that showed her a very tangible proof of the respective positions of black and white races in the then-existing society. It was the torture and murder of Emmitt Till, a 14-year-old black boy who had supposedly whistled at a white woman. This event evokes actual hatred in Anne (Moody 136). Despite living in a world where nobody wanted to speak about race relationships, Anne was bound to learn about it, and she did so without her mother’s words.
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While I do not believe that parents must provide the information on every aspect of their lives (in particular, because they occasionally struggle to exhibit awareness themselves and simply cannot do that), I do think that Anne’s revelation could be made slightly less painful and much less confusing with the help of her mother or other adults. Fortunately, nowadays schools facilitate children’s learning to the point of including sexual education, which may become less necessary in the future as a generation of aware people will mature.
In the beginning, Anne did not receive much help from adults; also, she could not wrap her mind around the concept of inequality just by using her logic; I guess it could be explained by the fact that there is little logic in discrimination. Naturally, economic exploitation is a viable reason, but it does not “explain” or “justify” the inferiority of one race when related to another. It is more likely that explanations arise to justify exploitation that Anne had to get acquainted with at a very young age. When an increased awareness begins to form, Anne is searching for answers that could help her cement it, and she discovers that her teacher Mrs. Rice can provide them.
Thus, in Coming of Age in Mississippi, the teacher plays the role of an educator on politics and social norms very much like modern teachers tend to provide this knowledge. These lessons help Anne to form her awareness into understanding, which is later expanded by her personal experiences as she interacts with a greater number of different people. From my individual experience, this kind of education on the society, citizenship, and dynamics of social groups is necessary since the amount of information that is related to these concepts is indeed confusing. Moody focuses on this process and the processes of revelations and understanding to a greater extent than on her actual activities as a citizen, which proves that her citizenship maturity is interconnected with the personal one.
At the college, Anne begins to work to make herself and other people visible to the authorities. In the beginning, it is the authority of college, but soon she becomes involved in NAACP and then CORE. The experience of Woolworth’s lunch sit-in provided her with an understanding of the reluctance of white people to change the situation and deconstruct segregation. At the same time, she is disappointed and even angry at the lack of change despite her efforts and blames the passiveness of some of the black people who are not as devoted to the Movement as much as she is.
For Anne, coming of age was related to the Movement, and she matured together with it, but for many people, it was different. It is apparent that (at the time of the creation of the book at the very least) Anne was considering herself an activist and a fighter for human rights for black people; it was giving meaning to her life (Moody 286). The relationship between race and citizenship is, apparently, related to self-identification for most people; but for Anne, the social movement turned into another aspect of this process.
For her, the realization of her citizenship, which she had been denied throughout her lifetime, both through personal and public awareness was not just associated with her life; it was her life. Here, it is important to point out once again that the issues of racial discrimination had been silenced at the time. It was not surprising that for the majority, the awareness while developing, was similarly silenced, and the problems of citizenship were easier to ignore.
Anne’s family, for instance, demonstrated apparent fear of social movements or the things that white people could do to them for participating. Moreover, Anne has experienced internal racism as well and was occasionally on the verge of exhibiting it concerning lighter-skinned blacks (Moody 59). These issues that are raised by the book demonstrate how differently the understanding of citizenship can develop in people, especially those who are deprived of the right to be regarded as equal with other citizens. They explain the need for the development of the understanding that may enable the elimination of discrimination and prejudice.
The book specifically focuses on the problems that prejudice and segregation, which occur between black and white communities, within the black community, which are based on income or sexual orientation, can bring along. Despite living in a more democratic country where tolerance and diversity lessons are part of school and college curricula, I have to agree that prejudice can still find a way into our lives.
Anne’s coming of age was painful; it involved learning unpleasant truths and finding means of living with them, parting with the family, and searching for a way to change the situation. It involved balancing between finding justice and avoiding becoming unjust herself (concerning white and black people alike). It involved learning the meanings of citizenship and race and the relationship between them the hard way.
However, the book raises issues that show the maturation of a citizen who understands the dynamics of social groups (in particular, those segregated by race and income), sees the injustice of segregation and prejudice, and is ready to protect her rights and to move along the change that could facilitate the lives of millions of other citizens. As a result, it can hardly be said that the book is nonapplicable nowadays.
We are still not ready to claim that we have eliminated prejudice; moreover, there will always be a need for maturing as a citizen, which is likely to involve painful revelations. Moody’s book shows how this maturation can be made more or less painful and confusing, and, in effect, the book is a means of helping to promote awareness of the concepts of citizenship and social movement into understanding and self-identification when related to race, income, or other characteristics.
Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Bantam Dell, 2011. Print.