Racism is set of beliefs that some people are inferior or superior to others because of their distinctive and inborn biological characteristics which are defined by race. As a result there is an attitude of bias, prejudice and intolerance toward certain racial groups which are being treated differently, both socially and legally. Though the practice of racial discrimination dates back to ancient times, it was in only in 1907 that the word ‘Racism’ was defined in the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time.
During the Gothic era, humans were divided on being ‘believers’ or ‘non-believers’ by Muslims and Christians, and not on their colour or creed. In the United States, the census from the very beginning (1790) has sorted people on the basis of their race. More than two million people of the African- American community are below the poverty level. This also happens to be the most victimised group in America. The civil war was meant to change the lives of many African-Americans, it did, marginally. An unofficial finding states that between 1836 and 1879, two African- Americans were lynched in the United States every week.
Racism is and will always remain a central issue in most places around the world, which scars every aspect of economic, cultural and political life by over or covert racism acts, either in an offensive loud bang or in a subtle manner. In many ways, racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination blur the line of accepted and unaccepted societal norms. That to subjugate other, either through perpetuation of violence or words is a phenomenon as old as time. Superiority by playing the race cared to make others feel inferior is racism. In the last 100 tears, over 62 million human beings have paid a price for being racially different; tortured, subjugated, and or killed, despite the ‘advancement’ in culture, science and technology. According to
Charles V. Hamilton and Kwame Ture racism is:
‘A prediction of decision and policies on consideration of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group’.
It is this experience of Black Slaves that Richard Wright tries to capture in Black Boy. In the text, Wright recalls the plight of the Africans that were sold into slavery between the early 1700’s and 1860’s through the convenience of their own fellow Africans. They were transplanted to American, Canada, the Caribbean Island and other parts of the world. The Africans taken into America were now referred to as ‘Black Americans’ while those on the Caribbean Island are called ‘Afro Caribbean’ but they all have a common roots and common problem- Racial Discrimination. The Africans faced a great ordeal trying to survive hardship on their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on arrival to America; they were conscripted into force labour, maltreated, abused and demoralized on the cotton fields and plantation where they were put to work as slaves.
As a result of this hardship deprivation and degradation, the blacks began expressing themselves through Negro spirituals which marked the beginning of the artistic expressions of the emotion. They told stories of unpleasant experience of slavery and oppression through pamphlet and short stories, which formed the basic of Black writings and which was later referred to as ‘slave narrative’ or ‘secret text’ because they were written without the knowledge of the slave owners. This inhuman trade led to the transportation of Africans to America to work as slave on the plantation where they experienced unimaginable oppression from the white owner. Many youth are ignorant of this fact and see America as a peaceful place and a bed of roses.
The twentieth century will be remembered throughout history for its turbulent struggles for racial equality, most notably that of the African Americans in the United States. The period after World War I saw the blossoming of African American writers and poets whom chronicled and voiced the anger, outrage and frustration they felt at the hands of a segregated and prejudiced nation. Richard Wright was one of these writers, gaining critical acclaim from his novel Native Son. Wright also produced an autobiographical work, entitled ‘ Black Boy’, details the injustices he experienced first-hand growing up in the segregated American South. Racism as a problem among individuals is a familiar topic in literature. Black Boy, however, explores racism not only as an odious belief held by odious people but also as an insidious problem knit into the very fabric of society as a whole.
Richard Wright’s Black Boy chronicles his southern childhood and adolescence and shows his struggle for physical, mental, and psychological fulfilment. More than simply an autobiography, this novel represents the result of Wright’s passionate desire to observe and reflect upon the racist world around him. Throughout the work, we see Richard observe the harmful effects of racism not only as it affects relations between whites and blacks, but also relations among blacks themselves. Wright entitles his work Black Boy primarily for the emphasis on the word ‘black’. This is a story of childhood, but at every moment we are very aware of the colour of Wright’s skin. In America, he is not merely growing up; he is growing up black. Indeed, it is virtually impossible for Richard to grow up without the label of ‘black boy’ constantly being applied to him.