Freedom and Social Status of Blacks in America


We live in time when many descendants of slave owners have come to realization of their historical guilt. However, only very few of them understand that such realization, on their part, draws practical consequences. It appears that the majority of White people in America are not quite ready to admit that, despite their strive to eradicate racism within themselves; they continue to act as subtle racists, simply because their higher socio-political status is being given to them by the very fact of their birth, thus endowing Whites with the sense of existential superiority, ever since the time of their childhood.

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The reading of Toni Bambara’s short story “The Lesson”, comes in particularly handy, within a context of one getting a mental grip of this fact, as it exposes American society continuing to remain classist in its very essence. While in the toy store, story’s main character Sylvia gets to realize that many of the toys displayed on store’s shelves cost way too much, such as $1195 toy sail-boat, made of fiber glass. Despite her young age, Sylvia senses that there is something utterly wrong with a simple toy costing that much: “Who’d pay all that when you can buy a sailboat set for a quarter at Pop’s, a tube of glue for a dime, and a ball of string for eight cents? It must have a motor and a whole lot else besides,” I say. “My sailboat cost me about fifty cents” (Bambara). It is only by the time she grows up that Sylvia will begin to understand that in America, Whites and Blacks perceive the money’s worth differently. For the underprivileged Black person, who was born and raised in the “hood”, thousand dollars represent a treasure. This amount of money can buy the “ghetto’s” Black family of five enough groceries to last for a few months, whereas White degenerates can easily spend it on such non-essential things as toy sail-boat, with the thought that they should have given this money to Blacks never occurring to them. Another story’s character, Miss Moore makes a perfectly good point when she refers to disproportionaly high prices in the toy store as indication of the fact that social inequality continues to affect the lives of underprivileged Americans: “That this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?” (Bambara). White Liberals think that by indulging in politically correct rhetoric and by patronizing African-Americans they had succeeded in building a fair society in U.S. and that nothing stands on the way of turning America into “multicultural utopia”. Black Americans have a different opinion in this regard – it is only when Whites open up their wallets, so that Blacks would also be able to have their “share of the dough”, that they might be able to redeem their historical guilt. Nowadays, African-Americans continue to suffer from economically defined “subtle racism”, on the part of Whites, as the story “The Lesson” illustrates. While being eight years old, Sylvia cannot even dream of buying toys, possession of which, White kids take for granted. When she grows up, she will also not be able to dream of buying a house in White suburbia, for exactly the same reason – artificially erected economic barriers between Whites and Blacks. Therefore, we can say that despite the fact that Blacks were formally given equal rights with Whites, they cannot exploit their social freedoms to the full extent of this word, because of their inherited low social status. In its turn, this does not allow us to think of existence of racial equality in America other then a joke.

The same motif can be found in Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B”, as poem’s narrator appears to be a socially alienated individual:

“It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me – we two – you, me, talk on this page”

It is not by simple accident that Hughes talks of Harlem with deep affection. Apparently, it is only on the streets of “ghetto” that he feels comfortable, probably due to the fact that White Liberals, who strive to instill Blacks with the sense of self-respect, never risk making a personal appearance among the “underprivileged”, on whose behalf they continue to speak, while referring at suggestions to share some of their money with the “underprivileged” as “ridiculous”. It is important to note that in his poem, Hughes does not promote the concept of “interracial integration”. Quite contrary – he is happy being himself: “I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love”, while suggesting that there is no particular reason for Whites and Blacks to strive to embrace each other identity:

“Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor…
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you”

In other words, author implies that he is quite comfortable with his racial identity and that he does not need to be “educated” to appreciate it. “You’re older – and white – and somewhat more free” says Hughes to his teacher, while implying that he does not perceive him as “moral figure”. Blacks do not need “morals” but freedom. Once they have a freedom, Whites will have no choice but to let go the part of the “pie”, they have been withholding solemnly for themselves. Given the results of last Presidential elections in America, it appears that Whites will not have to wait too long, before they would be forced to learn what it feels like walking in the shoes of “second class citizens”.

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Bambara, Toni “The Lesson”. 1972. UC Davis University. 2008. Web.

Hughes, Langston “Theme for English B”. 1951. Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 2008. Web.

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