Black Boy by Richard Wright
Published by HarperCollins
From the publisher:
Richard Wright grew up in the woods of Mississippi, with poverty, hunger, fear, and hatred. He lied, stole, and raged at those around him; at six he was a “drunkard,” hanging about taverns. Surly, brutal, cold, suspicious, and self-pitying, he was surrounded on one side by whites who were either indifferent to him, pitying, or cruel, and on the other by blacks who resented anyone trying to rise above the common lot.
Black Boy is Richard Wright’s powerful account of his journey from innocence to experience in the Jim Crow South. It is at once an unashamed confession and a profound indictment—a poignant and disturbing record of social injustice and human suffering.
I’ve had this book on my shelves for way too long, it’s one that I kept looking at, month after month and year after year, and telling myself how important of a book it is and that I HAVE to read it. Well, now I finally have, and of course I’m having that feeling of “why did I wait so long?”
To say that Black Boy is inspiring and powerful would be a huge understatement. Richard Wright grew up in the Jim Crow south, in a time and place when a black person simply looking at a white person the wrong way could cause them to be beaten or even killed. He grew up with parents who taught him that he wasn’t worthy of an education because of his race. He grew up being taught that reading was a waste of time, that learning wasn’t useful, and that to expect any more of himself than the poverty his family lived in would lead to disappointment.
Somehow, even with all of these forces against him, Wright decided from a young age that he would become more than his family believed he could be. He decided that, no matter what the cost, he would move out of the south, he would become successful, and he would never let someone tell him he was worthless again.
A lot of Black Boy is incredibly difficult to read. The suffering Wright and his family endured is beyond what most people can imagine. The cruelty and hatred that Wright and his family, and every other black person in that part of the country at that time, had to experience is beyond comprehension. It was certainly beyond my understanding before I read this book – it’s one thing to intellectually understand what Jim Crow meant to people, it’s a whole other thing to see it through the eyes of a child who experienced it first-hand. There’s not enough words to express what Wright went through: devastating, horrifying, soul-crushing, and many others come to mind.
But this is why Black Boy is an important book. There are people in the world, in this country, who don’t think racism is a problem. IT IS A PROBLEM. It is a thing, and continues to be a thing, and it’s systematic and has roots back to slavery (obviously) and Jim Crow laws and guys, it’s not over. Just because we elect a black president does not mean that racism has magically disappeared. Reading this book helped me gain a more clear understanding of just how deep-seated and entrenched in our foundation as a country and a society racism truly is. For this reason alone, everyone should read this book.
It’s also such an inspirational story. Wright made a decision that he was going to change his life, and he did that. It’s a testament to how powerful reading and education can be – because Wright could read, and was educated, he was able to do things with his life that many others in his situation could not have dreamed possible.
There’s so much to discuss about Black Boy, but really I would just highly encourage you to read it for yourself. This is an incredible memoir, one of the best I’ve read in a very long time, and such an important historical and cultural book. Highly, highly recommended.