Why would I read a book like this? A book by a black Communist, telling the sad story of his oppression by the evil whites? I suppose because it is necessary to know more about our enemies. We hear ad nauseam about their opinions, ideas, demands, justifications, etc. so it seems we wouldn’t need to know more. But getting the story straight from the horse’s mouth sometimes reveals more.
I saw the book on the three-for-two table at the bookstore and flipped through it. I saw it was the source of a story I read in elementary school, in which Wright tells of hanging a kitten as a young boy. The story is meant to show the awful lives of poor blacks that caused them to be cruel; but even as a child I knew there were children who just liked to hurt animals, and it wasn’t because they were poor or hungry. Some people are just sadistic and rotten.
That said I saw a little of Wright in myself- an intelligent person who has trouble understanding the behavior of those around him. Wright is intelligent, but perceptive in only the most superficial way. Part of this is the fact that he writes about his experiences as a child, and then as an adolescent and young man constantly exposed to new environments, but even so he is distinctly tone-deaf.
Wright grows up in a severely dysfunctional environment with an alcoholic father who soon leaves. Possibly worse, his mother takes him and his brother to live with her family, extremely mentally rigid and fanatical Seventh Day Adventists. Wright is puzzled by black behavior, but never analyzes it. He is puzzled by white hostility, but never analyzes it. He sees how blacks adapt to living under white rule, and even gets coaching from them on how to act, but he can’t get a handle on it.
The idea that all blacks in the South lived in fear of all whites is shown to be false by Wright’s own words- he talks about fights between black boys and poor white boys, that never brought down any white wrath on them. The strangest thing that Wright says is an aside he makes about the shallowness and weak affections of blacks, and how their inability to care about each other or even seemingly themselves dooms them. He finds it strange that whites regard blacks as deep and passionate. He suspects that bonds of attachment and habits of kindness are nurtured over generations; that is probably true, but also probably true that they are largely genetic and life in Africa did not select for these traits, the way life in the cold may have.
Wright, as valedictorian of his ninth grade class, has the opportunity to gain a respected position as a schoolteacher, but the price is that he will read the speech prepared for him and not the one he wrote himself. To his credit, Wright doesn’t play this up too much as an act of grand defiance, but more as one of stubborn integrity. As an intelligent but socially clueless person, Wright just thinks a speech that is supposedly written by him should actually be written by him.
After moving to Memphis for a time, and refusing another opportunity to join the black bourgeoisie by marrying his landlady’s daughter, Wright moves to Chicago. Wright immediately becomes highly critical of white people and white society. The outrage and criticism he couldn’t muster for people who were willing to kill him for small acts of defiance comes gushing forth for people who mostly just ignore him.
He and a black waitress point out a white cook who spits in the soup, who is then fired. (I guess Wright never heard of stop snitchin’, or more likely it doesn’t apply to whites.) This gives him no confidence in white fairness or justice though.
Chicago is a much more affluent place than Jackson, Mississippi or even Memphis. Wright sees a banal, consumerist society and claims it oppresses blacks. This is a pretty stupid idea- blacks love banal consumerism more than just about anybody on the planet- but this may have originated here. More likely Wright got this from communist sources and just adapted the idea to a black context. He sees more black dysfunction in the North, but blames it more on whites, even though they are less hostile.
Why is Wright’s anger so violently aroused in the North, where actual violence in the South brought little more than a shrug out of him? I think because what blacks hate more than anything else is being ignored. Blacks were tightly controlled in the South; they were treated badly much of the time, but to say they were hated wouldn’t be right. In the South whites knew they needed blacks, and blacks were an important part of Southern society, even if at the bottom. In the North blacks were a source of cheap labor, but nothing more. They weren’t needed or wanted, they weren’t even oppressed, they were simply set aside.
It’s pretty strange, but gets stranger still. Wright joins an artists’ group at Communist Party headquarters. Again he is in a new environment, surrounded by new people, but as with Southern whites and blacks, he is unable to comprehend it. The communists are rigid, paranoid, cruel, and obsessed with conformity and unquestioning obedience. They frequently treat Wright with contempt, but no matter what they do he loves them. The true indication of Wright’s complete lack of perception is that he never draws any parallel between the communists and Southern whites. In an actual communist country Wright surely would have been imprisoned at the very least, and likely killed, and he admits this- and yet his love of communism is undiminished. He tells the story of a trial/denunciation where the accused finally breaks, and he explains the confessions at the show trials may not have been coerced, but simply produced by the love of communism of those accused and guilt at having betrayed it, in whatever small way. He sees the irrationality of this, but can’t condemn it, and can’t see it in himself.
Moldbug and Foseti sometimes seem a bit overwrought about communists in the New Deal in the 30’s, but Wright works at several New Deal art projects and they are all run and rigidly controlled by communists- probably Jews, but Wright doesn’t say. I maintain these people were themselves tools of Yankee Protestants, but that’s an ongoing debate.
With the exception of his early aside, Wright is unable to perceive that blacks might be the cause of their own problems. It’s characteristic of many people that they love those who abuse them and hate those who treat them well, and Wright is a classic example of this. He hates the most the people who treat him the best- Northern whites.
The failure of the civil rights movement is that it assumed blacks want what modern thinking assumes most people want- freedom and autonomy to create their own lives. In truth many people want to be part of something larger, even if it despises and abuses them. To treat a black person like an autonomous human being is to put him, in his own mind, on dangerous ground. For those unable to make use of it, freedom is only isolation, anomie and meaninglessness. Be rude to a black person. Let him know you think of him as foreign and less than you. At bottom he will be happy, because you have given him a role to play, someone to be dictated by the outside.