Thursday, August 22, 2013

Native Son: On My Soapbox

Native Son by Richard Wright covers a short period of Bigger Thomas' life, a poor young black man living in Chicago, 1930.  He is offered a job as chauffeur to a wealthy white family.  When he finds himself in an uncompromising situation, he knows no other way out, but murder.  One crime leads to another and another until he is caught.  His lawyer, Max, takes his case in order to defend his life and the lives of millions of other black Americans who are living within this vicious cycle of racism and hate.  Max is Bigger's only witness, and his defense is to explain WHY Bigger committed murder in hopes of enlightening those who hold Bigger's fate in their hands and ending the cycle.  Extremely powerful and well-written about highly emotional issues that are still present today.

My soapbox

After I read Native Son, I felt a soapbox coming on.  I thought about where we are today as a culture, society, and nation, and if anything has changed or improved since Bigger Thomas' time.  I thought about some of my own personal experiences.

Growing up in the 1970s
Growing up in Brooklyn: me with my Irish friends
Growing up in Brooklyn, in a predominately Irish neighborhood, I was teased by some of my Irish friends for being Italian, but it did not bother me because I was proud to be an Italian-American. Their words did not ruin me.

Growing up in the 1980s

When I moved to California, I experienced prejudice first hand by the Mexican students who did not like the white students; and although I often was mistaken for being Hispanic, the Mexicans at my school knew I was not, and they targeted me.

While working the cash register at my job, a young black male refused my waiting on him.  He simply would not communicate his order to me or allow me to take his money.  My co-worker, a black female, had to handle the transaction instead.  The only time he would look at me was to scowl.  I never saw the guy in my life, but I knew instantly that he hated me because I was white (or Hispanic).  My co-worker knew exactly what he was doing, and she tried to convince me to ignore it; but I took it personally, and it really hurt.

Today: raising Americans.  Period.
Raising Americans. Period.

I know what hate feels like; I have felt a measure of unfairness in my life.  Today, my husband, who is of Mexican decent, and I think of ourselves as American. Period. We are raising our kids to think of themselves as Americans. We don't answer those STUPID RACE QUESTIONS on forms anymore.

We are just Americans trying to survive, just like everyone else.   Regardless of skin color, people want similar things; everyone feels the same way. This is what Bigger Thomas wanted to find out. But according to the author, Richard Wright, the reason Bigger committed murder was because of how he felt; and he felt that way because of how he lived; and he lived that way because he was not given much choice, (although everyone ultimately is accountable for his choices).


Unfortunately, Bigger Thomas' condition still exists, but today I think the unfairness goes beyond race. There is a cultural and political divide in America that prevents people from reaching their FULL POTENTIAL, and it is led by a political ideology that says, "Some people, based on their "minority status," cannot make it in America without the help of government." Many believe the LIE that they cannot survive without government intervention and aid. Yet, all government intervention ever does is perpetuate the segregation, oppression, and immobility of its people. Government policy does not lift people up; it keeps (the very people it says it helps) DOWN!

This is not freedom; this is STILL slavery!

So, what has changed today, if anything?   In Bigger's time, it was the rich white man that controlled; but now it is government that targets labeled-minorities and tells them that only government can fix their problems.  But in the process they provide no encouragement or enlightenment.

When wealthy Mr. Dalton donated his money for ping pong tables for black youth in Bigger's neighborhood, it reminded me of elected officials in my time who wanted to set up basketball courts with lights in low-income neighborhoods.

Kids like Bigger don't need ping pong or basketball; they need and want options and opportunities just like everyone else.  Even our education system has been dumbed down to appease young people in these situations because government has taken control of our education system and is not in the business of building knowledge. They are in the business of controlling masses and keeping people ignorant.  This only leads to more apathy and poverty, which leads to more dependence on government, which is still slavery!

You only have one life!  Fight for it!

Look! Unfairness exists, and everyone is a victim of unfairness at some point - some more than others. Government cannot totally eradicate unfairness, but you can fight it yourself.  You can rise above it. Dwelling on it only keeps you miserable and feeling sorry for yourself. What matters is that you only have one life, and you must fight for that life.  Max, Bigger's lawyer, explained this to Bigger, and Bigger understood this; but by then it was too late.

If only Bigger could have read My Grandfather's Son by Clarence Thomas, he would have known what it looked like to rise above unfairness, poverty, and segregation and take advantage of opportunity, make right choices, and fight for your life.

Post Script: 8/28/13  Dr. Ben Carson wrote this critical op ed piece about the very thing I was trying to say.  You can read it here: MLK would be alarmed by black-on-black violence, lack of family values.  Think of how things have changed for the better, but yet some still are making destructive choices.


Tonia said...

Bravo, Ruth! I applaud this post and wish I could share it with everyone. There is so much about our system that I would like to change and you summed it up very nicely.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Tonia. I felt like I had so much more to say, and I really had to curb myself.

Joseph said...


Ruth said...

Hey, thanks, Joseph.