Send This Thread to a Friend|
There was, however, another African-American man, Richard Wright, who made a serious contribution to understanding the plight of Black people in this society. His work caused a real jump, not only in understanding, but also doing something about that plight.
Richard Wright wrote the novel, Black Boy, published in 1940. It was the fictional biography (including some of Wright's own experiences), of an African-American young man, Biggar. Biggar was smart and ambitious but every way he turned, he was humiliated and defeated and trapped. Even today, it is horrifying reading. Toward the end of the book, Biggar took the only path open to him, violent crime. The book was an instant sensation. It brought out torrents of white rage but also white understanding and willingness to change.
How can a book about an uneducated Black man, a criminal, have a positive effect? Simple. It showed that he was a human being, not one of those blubbery, stupid, childlike Black stereotypes. It presented Biggar's human pain and anger. He was a (fictional) person of strong will who could not surmount the torment of being a Black in American society.
After another novel, Richard Wright eventually left (some would say, ‘fled') to France. Not only was he an African-American; he was also homosexual (that was before "gay" had been invented.) His burden was too great to bear; he fled rather than turning to crime or self-mortification.
Let's compare the two Wrights. Richard forced white people to see African-Americans as human beings, humans bearing an enormous weight. He just told the story. He didn't yell or threaten or scream. His book had a great effect.
The Reverend Wright is different. He rants at the whites to whom he talks. He tells us that we are totally responsible for the situation of African-Americans. He hurls thunderbolts at us. But his stories are not to people about other people; they are not about the connection between whites and African-Americans. He rages at faceless white stereotypes, not people. He wants to right the wrongs done to African-Americans, not as people but cardboard cutouts. Jeremiah reviles his white audiences while Richard merely told a story.
Reverend Wright would benefit if he could shake off the rant and cant. Perhaps he could see that whites and African-Americans are people. He could reveal the humiliation and pain and wasted lives that haunt all Americans but particularly African-American people. It might be possible that his message could go to all people; perhaps a few on either side could help get on with better lives. Rage and rant lead to conflict, to war, and war solves nothing—except to make the problems go underground and warlords rich.