Native Son by Richard Wright: Question of Segregation and Black-White Relationship

Segregation refers to the act of separating and isolating members of a racial group from the main body. After the Civil War, Southern white people were unwilling to accept the freed slaves as equals. The white people, therefore, developed a number of techniques to intimidate black people and to restore control of the Southern government to the white people. There was not, however, an extensive system of laws regulating the relations of the races. The Jim Crow system segregated black people from the whites. The development of the Jim Crow system was strongly encouraged by the “separate but equal” doctrine, a decision made by the Court in 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

The doctrine refers to Kitano’s theory which states that dominated black group members’ mobility and acceptance into the dominant society were hindered, delayed, and deflected by a number of barriers. These barriers included prejudice, discrimination, and segregation, and in extreme cases resulted in individuals being confined in concentration camps, expelled from the country, and even exterminated.

In segregating the blacks, the whites directed their dwellings to the ghetto. Black ghettos, ecologically, refer to the central or inner areas of large metropolitan centers, where the great majority of black people are concentrated. A ghetto, theoretically, is an area in which a racial or ethnic group is segregated. There are many persistent, interrelated causes for the origin and continuing expansion of segregated black neighborhoods or enclaves in large cities. These causes have ranged from legal codes or “restrictive covenants” forbidding the sale or rental of houses in white neighborhoods to black people, prevalent throughout the move out of black ghettos, or to improve conditions in them.

In general, segregation between black and white people, especially in the South, actually became worse after the abolition of slavery. Before the Civil War, most southern states had laws relegating all black people to the state of slavery. Thus, any black-white interaction that occurred on the basis of inequality was always an interaction between a free person and a slave and was accompanied by a variety of rules to remind them of this. Sociologically, there was a social distance, no matter how close the interaction might physically be. For this reason, such interaction was not a threat to the whites. Although they had a great deal of close contact with the blacks, it was always as masters and slaves. When slavery was abolished, the social distance between the white and the blacks was also eliminated. To maintain their superiority, the whites established segregation, a system of physical distance in its place. Essentially, they tried to use segregation to maintain the dominance they had enjoyed earlier under slavery. Thus, racism continued but in a new form.

On the basis of the white people’s view on the ”separate but equal” doctrine, segregation between white and black people was not considered to violate the constitution if the segregated accommodations were “equal”. Termstrom and Termstrom state that the implementation of the doctrine showed “inequality” and the doctrine itself showed black’s inferiority.

Black-White Relationship

White domination can be seen from the pattern of the black-white relationships as reflected in Native Son. How the whites treated the blacks, and how the blacks responded to or behaved toward the white, and how white domination occurred can be observed from the the-white relationship.

Native Son, a novel written by Richard Wright, tells us about the relationship of blacks and whites in America. Represented by Bigger Thomas and the Dalton family. Bigger Thomas is a representation of black people; Mr. And Mrs. Dalton are that of white Capitalists; and Jan Erlone and Mary Dalton, are the important supporting characters who oppose the biased attitude of the white capitalists toward black people. They struggled to attain equality for the blacks.

Bigger Thomas’ family is a poor black family who lives in a one-room apartment with a rat-infested kitchenette. The family home environment contrasts sharply with the well-built home environment of the Daltons, the rich white family. The contrasting home environment of both different families are described in Native Son as follows:

There was no rug on the floor and the plastering on the walls and ceiling-hung loose in many places. There were two worn iron beds, four chairs, and old dresser, and a drop-leaf table on which they ate. This was much different from Dalton’s home. Here all slept in one room; here he would have a room for himself alone. He smelt food cooking and remembered that one could not smell food cooking in Dalton’s home. The Families described by Richard Wright are not only those of Bigger and Dalton. He describes other families of black and white families. “Why did he and his folks have to live like this? 

Aside from the different home environments, the blacks also encountered problems in obtaining a job in a white environment as depicted in Native Son. Realizing this problem, Bigger’s mother suggests Bigger should accept the relief’ suffer to work for the Daltons as a chauffeur. “You know, Bigger, “his mother said, “If you don’t take the job the relief cut us off. We don’t have any food”. This implies that the blacks were dependent on the whites.

As indicated in Native Son, black people felt unsafe living or passing through the white neighborhood. Being fearful of sudden attacks launched by the whites, Bigger always brought a knife or a gun whenever and wherever he goes. “Inside his shirt, he felt the cold metal of the gun resting against his naked skin; he ought to put it back between the mattresses. No! He would keep it. He would take it with him to the Dalton place. He felt that he would be safer if he took it. He was not planning to use it. There was in him uneasiness and distrust that made him feel that he ought to have it along. He was going among white people, so he would take his knife and his gun; it would make him feel that he was the equal of them, giving him a sense of completeness.

Bigger always hated and disturbed the whites. His hatred toward them was based on his opinion that the whiteness was evil and this made him to refuse the whites’ offer to solve his people’s problems. Wright depicts this hatred in Native Son. Jan Erlone and Mary Dalton; both who are white Communists, wanted to befriend Bigger, a new worker of the Daltons. They regarded the blacks as equals to the whites. But, Bigger hated them because they were white and feared them. His hatred toward the whites aroused his anger which caused him to commit violence.

Like a rat, a black man is regarded as an inferior creature. His existence in this world is regarded as a nuisance to white people. Thus, He must be destroyed or killed. Aware of his existence as an inferior and oppressed creature, a black man represented as Bigger, felt fearful when interacting with white people. It is implied in Native Son that a black man is a creature motivated by fear and acted instinctively as Bigger had toward white people, such as killing Mary Dalton.

07 July 2022
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