“How come yuh didn’t hide?” she asked me. “How come yuh awways fightin’?”

The above Image is featured on American  Radio Works Remembering Jim Crow

This question must be one that Wright asked himself throughout his life. But I wonder if he also asked himself: “Whay am I hiding? Whay ain’t I fightin’?”[1]

In this autobiographical sketch we follow the litany of injustices where Wright is forced to follow the insane pattern of Jim Crowe which always leads to a position of loss by African Americans.

Doing his best to follow the rules in his first job, he believes he is doing the right thing by following the established rules of saying yessir, and standing “straight and neat before the boss.”  But before he knows it he has misread the pattern of place, thinking mistaking his Boss’ assertion that he “like to try to learn something around here”[2] to mean a trade. In reality he finds when he inquires about the process of the work, or how to increase his own skill, the lesson is how to black in the south and work with whites without being brutalized. Except this is only a position that whites feel exists. A Black man can never escape from being who he is so therefore he winds up as Wright does in-between two ignorant white men where both answers to a question can only lead to his banishment.

Faced with his co-workers and tormentors Wright was forced to voluntarily flee to save his own skin.  He hid, and relented in the situation, but the paradox is, his mother and white society would see that as an instance of “not hiding and fightin’”.

In reading the stories in Uncle Tom’s Children, and being faced repeatedly with the brutal endings, I think the class was repeatedly taken aback. I know I asked the question, “Were there any good whites?” But these stories are products of his life. Of the cruel realities that have made him feel guilty and foolish after doing all he could to follow the rules of his “Jim Crow Education.”   The stories are an attempt to come into the open, and exposing the violence and desperation is Wright’s personal fight against oppression.

I think Wrights answer to his mother is “because I can do nothing else. Therefore I will do it well.”


[1] Wright, R. (1971). The ethics of living Jim Crow. In S. Cahill & M. F. Cooper (Eds.), The urban reader (pp. 167-177). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

[2] Ibid

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