Theme Of The Autobiography Of An Ex Colored Man

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In James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, the unnamed narrator must choose between living his life passing as a white man or embracing one of color. Growing up, the protagonist and his peers believe he is white. He then comes across a point during school in which the principal makes him rethink his color. Thus begins the main problem the narrator faces throughout the story; keeping the white identity allows him to live a normal life, whereas the option exists to potentially sacrifice it all and live his life as a colored man. The protagonist oscillates through his racial identity as white or black based upon the racial discrimination and violence that he witnesses, and ultimately chooses to pass as white due to these…show more content…
The white dominance takes form in racism and discrimination, including segregation, inequality, and violence. The ability of the narrator to pass as white saves him from most of the harshness and live his life with normalcy. Being born to a white father and a black mother, the narrator began with an oblivious knowledge to race, and more specifically his own. He assumes the role of the white until the day a principal points out the fact he is in fact not white. He goes home to his mother and, “buried my head in her lap and blurted out: 'Mother, mother, tell me, am I a nigger?'" (12). From this point on, the narrator frames his worldview and subjectivity from a legally black standpoint but with the appearance of a white man. The narrator begins to change his actions and thoughts based on what he perceived others to think of him; the people around him did not change as much as he did towards them. “From that time I looked out through other eyes, my thoughts were colored, my words dictated, my actions limited” (20). Now exposed to the realities of race and society, he…show more content…
Overall, he is satisfied with his choice, especially for the safety of his children. But, regret still nags. “I cannot repress the thought that, after all, I have chosen the lesser part, that I have sold my birthright for a mess of pottage” (154). The narrator believes the decision he made came too easily at the time, and he sold away his claim to his African American roots by taking this settlement. He was not able to reunite relations to his white and black backgrounds, and has not come to reality with himself. He benefits and takes pleasure in the fact his social status is that of a white man. However, since he is legally black, he stills feels this moral obligation to help his race did not become fulfilled, and therefore is still at odds with himself. The narrator’s talents could have been used to advance the colored people of the nation. Instead, he chose the path of least resistance and masked himself from the problems of the African American. “There is deep divergence between the ex-colored narrator’s decreed ideals and his behavior, and between his claims of rescuing the black race and his steadfast allegiance to the white supremacy and normative values” (Al-Shraah). Perhaps this originates the narrator’s source of remorse for his choices and actions; he talked about the black race and how it could be mutually beneficial, yet his actions support the cause of the white. And, by not
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