Black Boy by Richard Wright: Being a Minority in The Deep South

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2197 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 2197|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Racism in Black Boy
  3. Increase police brutality in the South
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


These are a set of literature that is produced in the United States by authors of African descent. This literature is very significant in that they depict various important themes that are important in the modern day world. This report discusses an article on Police brutality, and the increase of crime in urban areas by Richard Wright, Black Boy. Well, the rule of thumb was that if a person was not white, or in the majority, they would probably be discriminated against in some sense prior to the Civil Rights movement and even somewhat after that. Also, even the Asians and Latinos were discriminated back then too. In Black Boy by Richard Wright, the author discusses the duality of being a minority in the Deep South. The story was written in 1945, but its content is close enough to what happened in the 1950’s-1960’s that it answers the question well enough. On one hand, there were the whites, the majority that would treat blacks wrongly. However, on the other hand, there was also a certain tier of “minority status”. Richard accounts of the time that he and several other black kids would harass and throw things at the Jewish kids, calling them “Christ killers”.

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Racism in Black Boy

The Blacks were so used to being at the bottom of the totem pole or hell, at the time the book takes place, most people had grandparents and even parents who were once slaves and Wright (2009) argues that it was simply an attempt to feel above someone else. Those scars run deep for some people. So, at a futile attempt to feel dignified, they discriminated against other minorities, such as Jews. The system of bigotry is not just limited to white people discriminating against others. It changes the entire culture regarding race. That still held true into the ’50s, even with changing tides. As a side note, the Black Boy by Richard Wright covers a lot of the experiences of being black in the Deep South prior to the Civil Rights movement.

Wright (2015) attests from personal experience that in colonial times “boy” was a very widely used term for an adult male Papua New Guinea native. The natives were collectively known as “the boys”, and a white family would have a servant known as a houseboy. If it was necessary to distinguish gender, a native woman was known as a “Mary” or Meri. Moreover, Wright (2015) narrates in his book how several people had worked in Papua New Guinea and in 1968 he went on an ANU student tour to the University, Port Moresby and surrounding areas that was organized by Bill Gammage and he certainly heard English and Australian planters and business people use the term “the boys” in a condescending way that robbed them of adulthood and agency.

Papua New Guinea was eventually given independence from Australia in 1975, against the opposition of many of the “old New Guinea hands” (Hinds, 2010). In 1965 at the Gold Coast Wright went with a school friend who had been born in New Guinea of Australian parents, to visit a retired couple who had been colleagues and friends of his parents in New Guinea. The old couple were strongly against the idea that New Guinea natives might ever be ready for self-government, and described talk of independence as, “The boys are getting cheeky”. My opinion at the time was that referring to the “boys” as “cheeky” was an additional way of treating them like children. That was certainly a long-established custom in the South. An older white lady needing assistance with her luggage or something might call out “Boy!” to a nearby black man, sometimes accompanied by a snap of the fingers. A group of young black men accused of rape was known to one and all as “The Scottsboro Boys.” The speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates saw nothing wrong with saying of African-American legislators, “I don't have any problems with those boys”. Knowing him and his rural background well, the legislators did not actually take any great offense.

It should be noted that “boy” or “boys” in a general sense has always been a customary way to refer to white men as well. “He’s a good old boy,” was a compliment when applied to an older white man. ‘Boy’ is definitely social, but more common in the South. Which is to say there have been many well-understood ways to separate boys from men, and some men don’t grow up while others cannot. The best way to express it is that there is a man’s work and there is a boy’s work and if someone is not doing man’s work, he is a boy. Boys do fetching, humping loads, running errands, sending messages and all general scout work. So, if a person is called ‘boy’ it is not necessarily a racist usage, but refers to the kind of work he is expected to do (Gallantz, 1986). Right or wrong, most black men in the South did boy’s work and respectability; however, yes there absolutely is prejudice in calling all black men ‘boy’ but generally people know in one glance what the social expectation is and that is the same according to work. It is not easy to imagine anyone but it was apparent that most vile racist calling any black minister ‘boy’ who would call other black’s ‘boy’ by the work association.

Increase police brutality in the South

Brewton (2010) argues that this is something that is a subtlety a person would only tend to understand by actually living in the South and knowing how people behave in various contexts. A lot of older black men were brutally tortured and killed by policemen for example. As a white man living in the Deep South, Wright (1998)’s point of view about police brutality in the south might particularly be insightful. It seems to him that in the North, the black people were mostly confined to certain areas of large cities while in the South, there were black people everywhere. Wright (1998) is certainly sure there were more or fewer racists in either place, but certainly more white people interact with black people in the South than in the North. As a personal example, Wright took many trips with his family from Detroit to the countryside of Michigan and found out that once a person lives the city, it will be apparent that the person will not see a single black person driving around Louisiana while there were black people in every town and rural areas.

That being said, Wright (1998) is convinced that there was a relationship between police brutality and racism, between the number of protests and racism or between the number of deaths at the hand of police and racism. For the record, he thinks the movement of Black Lives Matter was a step in the right direction towards reducing police brutality in the south, as it magnified the feeling of victimization black people had, with positive results in his opinion. According to Brewton (2010), the police were racists and they could carelessly shoot people without reason and to them, the solution was to emphasize the supposed victimization of black people.

The contradiction is in the question - the presumption that prejudice and racism follow simple patterns that conform to the accepted narrative of white racist south. The truth was always more complicated, and things have changed so much over the last 50+ years that the narrative is no longer more than partially reflective of reality. But we still have people trying to judge the world based on these out-dated preconceptions. Police brutality was keenly associated with racism though currentl, it is often less overt as it has been in the past. Wright (1998) tried to remain objective about stories related to the police and their interactions with any particular group. He accepts these stories about alleged police misconduct and 'police brutality' hit closer to African American and was simply motivated by skin color. However, Wright (2010) argues that police agencies in America today have made incredible strides in terms of inclusion, diversity, and sensitivity. This is not to say that all ills have been cured but to highlight the institution's recognition that it had some issues and change was needed. A real push for accountability to the public, the 24-hour news cycle, and social media helped push that realization along as well. Police officers, even those that may harbor some prejudice, are aware that they are under a microscope. They know that their every action is subject to scrutiny and dissection by their peers, the law enforcement community as whole and the average citizen. The author believes that the vast majority of officers will act, at the very least, within the scope of their authority as bestowed upon them by their respective state. There will always be those who will dishonor the badge. Wright (2010) assures readers that they are the exception, not the rule.

There weren’t significant numbers of average Asians and Latinos in the Deep South in the 50s and 60s. Those who were there were extraordinary and managed at least as well as black folks, which was not excruciating and same with Jews. Wright (2010) thinks a lot of people looking back in hindsight tend to forget that there were and are far harsher environments in this world than the Jim Crow South. Lynching, the Red Shirts and the KKKs acts are forms of domestic terrorists, police brutality and slavery and racially based violence was a slow-moving holocaust According to 2010, the south was mainly characterized by a culture of vigilantism, mob rule, and mob mentality. However, several presidents tried to pass the anti-lynching laws and it failed to get approval by the Senate because to them it was not obvious this was against the law. Wright (2010) argues that for various reasons the lynching laws were meant to send a message to blacks who were thinking of organizing, uprising, or cross the parameters of their social status since the bodies were typically left hanging after the lynching. That was the overwhelming reason why blacks were lynched, beaten, etc. The police did it to assert and to keep their power. Sometimes it was for political power, other times it was because they wanted to assert their power to take what they felt they deserved from those who actually earned it. Most of the people, Black or White, who were lynched, were done so, for reasons of violence, sex crimes, and murder. Though, there were numerous cases, where some Blacks and Whites were lynched for much lesser crimes, mistaken identity or completely innocent. There were about 4,000 recorded lynching in American history, of which 60% were African American.

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Gallantz (1986) argues that it serves a no good, accurate or reliable purpose to try to separate and abstract racism from Southern society by saying this or that is or is not a racist word the way most people do today. According to the author, it is rare that most people do anything that might be called literary criticism that takes such subtitles into appropriate consideration. After all, who knows what lies in the hearts of men? Just a quick look at my OED2 shows a definition of “male Negro slaves of any age” for “boy,” with usages from 1609, 1681, 1850 (Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and so on; the examples aren’t limited to the American South. After slavery, the use of “boy” persisted well into the 20th century and it was echoed in memoirs, such as Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945) and (in the apartheid context) Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy (1986). The OED2 shows related definitions for “boy” to mean servant that would support some of the other answers here. Therefore, it is universal in racist systems where an underclass is enforced. The language will develop to demean, ‘show you your place.’ On the flip side, those oppressed will use a lot of familial language with each other, ‘brother, sister, baby.’ We develop cathartic and support cultures, while those ‘over’ us will develop cultural traits expressing bullying or patronizing. It is sometimes uncanny how similar they can be without any connection whatsoever. All this is innate in human nature, however regrettable some of it may be. It is a pejorative term that infantilizes adult African Americans into a permanently servile position. It is specific to the American South both before and after slavery, as an act of dehumanizing PoC in order to uphold institutions of white cultural hegemony and threaten any notion of equality.


  • Brewton, B. E. (2010). Richard Wright's Women: The Thematic Treatment of Women in Uncle Tom's Children, Black Boy, and Native Son. Palo Alto: Academica Press.
  • Gallantz, M. (1986). Richard Wright's Native son & Black boy: Barron's book notes. Barron's.
  • Hinds, M. J. (2010). A reader's guide to Richard Wright's Black boy. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers.
  • Wright, R. (1998). Black boy (American hunger): A record of childhood and youth. New York: HarperPerennial.
  • Wright, R. (2009). Black boy: American hunger : a record of childhood and youth. New York: HarperCollins e-books.
  • Wright, R. (2010). American hunger. Place of publication not identified: HarperCollins e-books.
  • Wright, R. (2015). Black boy: (American hunger) : a record of childhood and youth. New York, N.Y: Olive Editions/HarperPerennial, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.
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Black Boy By Richard Wright: Being A Minority In The Deep South. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“Black Boy By Richard Wright: Being A Minority In The Deep South.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
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