Saturday, November 15, 2008

What I Am Reading

I am 2/3 of the way through Native Son by Richard Wright. I've had such conflicting reading behaviour as I've been reading, which I think turns out to be reflective of the vortex of emotions in this book. I have wanted to just quit reading-overcome by the stark nature of the brutality. I have wanted to greedily skip ahead to find out what will happen. I have put off reading for hours. I have had periods where I have shut everything else out while I read voraciously.

Native Son, published in 1940, is the story of Bigger Thomas, a black man in Chicago in the 1930's. The story tells of his acts of murder, his flight from justice, and his trial. There is also some discussion of Communism thrown in there for good measure-as Richard Wright was at one point affiliated with the communist party. Mr. Wright's attempt in writing Native Son is to write a novel about race "which is so hard and deep" that readers would have to face the truth "without the consolation of tears." Feeling that a sense of pity, can lead one to believe that one has led to an understanding of the characters--and this sense of consoling identification can yield to a person feeling as though they have actually accomplished a good, done a right to correct a wrong-Mr. Wright rips away any sentimentality an interloper might feel towards Bigger Thomas.

Recently on a forum, I was told that people like me are the reason that racism lingers on. Not because I am a racist, but rather because I am of the opinion that centuries of systematic and intentional oppression of people of color in America cannot be undone in a few mere decades. It was said that if white people like me would just let it go--that we'd be able to move forward. (This was written by other white people) I am of the opinion that race relations are still tenuous, and that African Americans still do not have truly equal opportunities, because of the disproportionate numbers of black people living in poverty. Though the recent election has demonstrated that we have definitely made some enormous strides in the right direction, it seems to me that we still have a long way to go to undo treating an essential component of our society as sub-human. Acknowledging what is, doesn't seem to me inconsistent with healing and progress. Rather it seems like an essential step, if we will ever have true equality--both in law and opportunity.

I mention this only by way of prefacing a few quotes from Native Son, perhaps to explain why they resonated with me:

He shut their voices out of his mind. He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fullness how they lived, they shame and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair.
And one other:
There were rare moments when a feeling and longing for solidarity with other black people would take hold of him. He would dream of making a stand against that white force, but that dream would fade when he looked at the other black people near him. Even though black like them, he felt there was too much difference between him and them to allow for a common binding and a common life. Only when threatened with death could that happen; only in fear and shame, with their backs against the wall could that happen. But never could they sink their differences in hope.

So far while reading I can't help but feel like one of the Daltons. Someone who is well meaning and trying to do right --but yet is still so far outside anything approaching understanding or empathy that it is just another sense of enslavement.

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