Who is to blame for racism?

It’s easy to trace the key plot points of this novel, but something interesting becomes clear when you do. Mr. Bledsoe sent him on a fool’s errand to New York with those letters which led him to Mr. Brockway. Mr. Brockway sent him to the company hospital which led him to Ras the Exhorter and Brother Westrum.

Look closely at the people involved with these events:

Mr. Norton’s mistake was simply to explore the culture of the rural, impoverished black people. For letting Norton see this side to their existence, Mr. Bledsoe punished the narrator by expelling him.

Mr. Kimbro’s only action was to send the narrator back for another assignment after a simple mistake with the Optic-White paint. For being assigned to “his” territory, Mr. Brockway punished the narrator by trying to kill him.

Brother Jack has encouraged the narrator to speak publically and begin to help establish a society changed for the better. Ras the Exhorter and his gang savagely attack his group because they preach equality and aren’t sending a message of “Black Power”.

On pg 312, the drunken white man spouts racial epithets which the narrator merely laughs off. In chapter 18, the narrator is removed from his public assignment, which he has performed with great success, because of slanderous opinions and trumped-up accusations by his co-worker, another black man named Brother Westrum.

Since this novel paints in specific color, I think it’s fair to point out that all the characters which have TRULY screwed-over the narrator have been black. Unquestionably, there is a racial prejudice in this novel. Within it, as in real-life, there is staunch oppression within the “White” world against non-whites. There is no fiction to this and its presence is distinctly felt in the narration. However, the racism in the book of white people towards black is depicted in the form of verbal belittlement and inconsideration of their culture, not as violent and sadistic persecutors of the black characters. They are depicted either as having made simple mistakes (such as Mr. Norton’s) or as examples of how idiot honkies sometimes talk down to blacks (pg 312). The major injustices dealt to our narrator have been dealt (so far) by other black characters.

This does not change the framework or the intent of the novel. The racism which pervades every page is a reflection of the racism within reality and especially within American culture of 1947 (and now). However, this realization has changed the way in which I will perceive the novel from this point onward.

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One Response to Who is to blame for racism?

  1. Anton V says:

    I agree that this novel is not exclusive in its sense of where and how racism happens; but I would take your argument one step further and say that the context even of racism amongst the black characters in the novel takes place within a broader context of institutionalized white racism. The system breeds suspicion and hate amongst blacks, but it is the system itself (embodied by Norton, Kimbro’s produciton of his “optic white” ideology, the cop who kills Clifton, and even Brother Jack, who Ellison hints was behind the original note warning the protagonist to “slow down”) which is the dominant force behind the novels racist acts. I think we’re both right!

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