“The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch” by Richard Wright depicts the writers life lessons learned by while growing up as black boy in the United States in the early 20th century. This was period when there was a lot racial segregation in the nation especially in the South. The story illustrates several of the lessons especially about race that the author had to learn. It illustrates how he had to learn to live in a society laded with racial prejudice as well as discrimination. His main argument or theme regards to how blacks living in the south were forced to adopt a certain kind of lifestyle and behavior when around the white people and how they accepted that lifestyle and behavior as a way of life. Wright talks about some of the personal events and experiences that he went through and the ways that he grew up learning what he refers to as the “Jim Crow wisdom” (Wright, n.d).
According to Wright, the first thing that he supposedly learnt was how to address the white people properly. He describes how he was often beaten up by the white people for failing to address them in the proper manner, for instance by calling the Sir or Mister. He then talks about his mother telling him that the beating was fully deserved because the whites had power over the blacks over a variety of things including food, jobs, shelter amongst other things.
Wright then goes onto describes several aspects of his argument about blacks familiarizing themselves with this lifestyle of white domination. For instance, he talks about how blacks learnt not to be in white neighborhoods after the sun went down because of white police brutality, how he was supposed to look or not look at white women, and how blacks were even supposed to laugh at certain conversations with white people even if what was being talked about was not funny (Wright, n.d). Finally, he talks about how blacks were supposed to maintain a smile in their face always as a sign of happiness and how this gave a false indication to strangers that everything was all right when in fact, it was not.
Wright’s article simply depicts what has been known all long. Blacks faced this oppression during the earlier years of the 20th Century especially in the South, which was notorious for its segregation. However, he introduces a new concept that seems to indicate that the blacks had become accustomed to this oppression to the point that they now viewed it as a normal part of life. This is indeed a very interesting twist because most of the literature would tend to show that many blacks were outraged against prejudice, discrimination, sought means, and ways of ending it. This concept is very useful because in its essentially, it depicts how society can be forced to adopt a certain kind of life simply because they have no power to overcome or oppose the lifestyle that has been set for them by a higher power, in this case the white people of the “Jim Crow” as Wright refers to them (Rothenberg, 1998).
Wright’s reading is uncomfortable to some point especially when he describes how he was beaten up for supposedly “insulting” his white masters simply because he did not refers to them as “mister” or “sir”. This situation depicts just how rotten the society was at this time and how a simple thing as the color of one’s skin was used as a tool of oppression (Rothenberg, 1998).
Wright’s article adds to the knowledge already in palace about racism and prejudice in the American south during the early 20th Century. The story enhances the current; society understands of race and ethnicity by showing just how these concepts superiority of one’s race can be used to discriminate others and forces to live by an inferior lifestyle where that they fell that they do not match to the other race’s attributes (Andrews, 1998).
Wright, R. (n.d.). The Ethics of living Jim Crow: an autobiographical sketch.
Rothenberg, P. S. (1998). Race, class, and gender in the United States: An integrated study. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Andrews, W. L. (1998). The literature of the American South: A Norton anthology. New York: W.W. Norton.