Ralph Ellison’s essay “Going to the Territory” is truly a definition of American culture. Ellison’s essay is a description of his journey from Oklahoma to Brown University and along the way he uncovers truths about the way Americans selectively acknowledge their history and ignore important aspects of their culture and let them fester into an uncontrollable problem.
Ellison had a connection to Brown University before he even made it out of grammar school. His principal was the first colored man to graduate from Brown and Ellison received an award in memorial to Dr. Inman Page, Ellison’s grammar school principal. It is through his time spent at Brown and his journey there that he realizes that American culture is based upon what people choose to hear and see.
“Considering the ironic fact that Americans continue to find themselves stumbling into (as well as over) details of their history, tonight’s is a most American occasion…At any rate, in the two hundreds years of our existence a great deal has been overlooked or forgotten” (123).
Ellison says that Americans ignore the social problems of our country, which results in the problems growing out of control. Race is one of these problems.
According to Ellison, race is a result of people’s personal interests. People are so self interested that they look past the pressing issues of today. “Our unknown history doesn’t stop having consequences each though we ignore them” (133). Because we as Americans ignored such issues as racial inequality- in that the debt Americans owe the black community is not repayable. We think that by instituting laws to make all persons equal is enough, but this equality is never achieved, but looked past as though it is fine.
Ellison speaks of Black culture as being imitated and mimicked by many non-white citizens. He mentions Europeans dancing like the Negroes, and how they other members of society find it absurd for them to behave in such a way. These people are subject to the prejudices of those who have overlooked the instances of inequality in the past. Today, people who pose as Blacks are subject to much scrutiny and discrimination. They are termed “wiggers” and and are often seen as offensive. Ellison thought that this mimicking behavior was okay and acceptable.