People who are close to you have a greater impact on you due to the way we are raised and the instincts we have when we are born. You were taught to always listen to your parents and you grew up in a household with people of the same race. Our own instincts lead us to believe that we will have more in common with those who look like us than those who do not look like us. As a child, differences are shocking and difficult to except when they’re first introduced. Initially, racism comes from the prejudices in the world around them.
The setting of Black Boy contributes to the center of racial discrimination, the Jim Crow South of the early twentieth century. The novel moves from one southern city to another, from the Deep South to Memphis, Tennessee, from almost all black communities to workplaces dominated by whites. Black Boy attacks racism of the South during the period Wright was growing up there. Many of the hardships of Wright’s family life are direct or indirect results of racial oppression. As an innocent child Wright sees no difference between the blacks and the whites. Yet he is aware of the existence of a difference. “My grandmother, who was as “white” as any “white” person, had never looked “white” to me.”(Wright pg. 31). This quote shows his confusion about blacks and whites. Once Wright enters the world of work he finds racism pervasive and intolerable. The novel concludes with Wright fleeing the south and the racist condition he has been forced to endure there.
We see Richard observe the deleterious 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”. The story is about his childhood, but at every moment we are reassured of the color of Wright’s skin. In America, he is not merely growing up; he is growing up black. It is impossible for Richard to grow up without the label of “black boy” constantly being applied to him. Whites in the novel generally treat Richard poorly due to the color of his skin.
Importantly, racism is so insidious that it prevents Richard from interacting normally even with the whites who do treat him with respect or with fellow blacks. The most important factor in Wright’s “black” upbringing is the fact that he grows up among black people who are unable or unwilling to accept his individual personality and his gifts. Wright’s critique of racism in America includes a critique of the black community itself, specifically the black community that is unable or unwilling to educate him properly. The fact that he has been kept apart from such education becomes clear to Richard when he recognizes his love of literature at a late age. Wright goes through quite a few stages to find himself in Black Boy.
Black Boy explores racism not only as an odious belief held by impetuous people but also as a huge problem that has grown into being wrongly accepting into society. For Wright, the true problem of racism is not simply that it exists, but that its roots in American culture are so deep it is doubtful whether these roots can be destroyed without destroying the culture itself.