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Degradation and Discrimination in Richard Wright's The Ethics of Living Jim Crow

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Richard Wright's "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow" illustrates his cruel childhood lesson of how he learned to live and survive with the degradation and discrimination that was prominent in the South. In this essay, Wright talks about the lessons he learned growing up regarding the proper way to act around white people in order to be safe and avoid confrontation. Whites viewed themselves as superior to blacks and acted in ways to reinforce this idea. Their oppressive actions create social pressures and consequences that make blacks act in certain ways to avoid the common lynchings or beatings. The majority of blacks accept their inferior role because they viewed it as impossible to escape due to police and society structures. However, Richard Wright doesn’t share this subdued outlook, instead he exhibits frustration towards these people's actions and chooses to respond with defiance.
The lesson of whites dominance is repeated throughout "Ethics of Living Jim Crow." This attitude creates a social atmosphere that forces blacks to choose how they react in each situation carefully. This white dominant theme appears when Wright is applying for a job at a mainly white company. "I was very careful to pronounce my sirs distinctly, in order that he might know I was polite, that I knew where I was, and that I knew he was a white man." The whites demanded respect from blacks and the blacks give it to them to avoid the harsh consequences. In addition, whites expect them to know their place in society and stay there. When Wright inquired if he could learn more about the work he was met with immediate anger. "This is a white man's work around here, and you better watch yourself." Wright's employers wanted him to be the typical black man and not d...


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...e man the satisfaction of demeaning a black man. Wright does not want to accept the oppression and instead, chooses to defy it in any way possible.
Throughout "Ethics of Living Jim Crow" Wright explores the issue of white dominance through Jim Crow laws and how blacks act in response to these discriminatory acts. Through the discrimination and racial violence, whites created a social situation that forced blacks to either accept the inferior role or pay the consequences. He displays the majority of blacks, including his mother, as submissive to whites. They do not dare defy whites and tried to avoid any confrontation with them. While most blacks accept this role, Wright defies it and works to improve his life. This new way of thinking sends him North in search of a better life. I believe things like this happened to a lot of people and caused the Northern migration.



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