Monday, May 17, 2021

Black Boy by Richard Wright (audiobook)

genre: memoir

In Black Boy, Richard Wright takes us back in time to his earliest memories as a child in Mississippi and Arkansas in the early 20th century. All the misunderstandings and frustrations of youth are compounded in his experience as a Black child in the Deep South. The financial instability, the family drama, the constant knowledge that there is something huge you don’t quite understand - Richard’s intelligence and fierce independence means that he will figure out the world in his own way and once he does - the plight of being Black in America will hit like  like an unfathomable weight.

Black Boy is his story. His struggle. His processing of his life and learning, Black Boy is Richard’s trajectory from youth to manhood in a world that stamped him second class from the moment he left the womb. So many painful and traumatic dead ends. To be in his head on the journey to understanding the way his life would play out because of his Blackness has deeply affected me as a modem white person. He’s so human in his self depreciation, so honest in his desires and faults that my heart actually ached with the tragedy and horrors of race history in this country. I especially kept thinking about the brilliance and innovation and talent that NEVER had a chance to flourish because of the way Black people were kept in poverty and ignorance ON PURPOSE - there is no time to write or imagine or create when you can’t literally even find food to eat or a place to put your body at night.  The writing is so good that it sucked me right into his whole world and it was a really hard place to be.

I am taking off half a star, though, because the last 20% or so was far less interesting to me. It’s about his political experiences as a young man and while I did learn a lot of context and history that I had no idea of, it just wasn’t as compellingly written in my opinion, I had a harder time wanting to read it.

Overall, though, I am sad that this book intimidated me so much that I waited so long to read it. I wish I’d read it in my early twenties or even high school because I honestly don’t know if I have ever read about the real life experience of a Black man from this time period, told in his own words. It’s so poignant and powerful and, yes, painfully raw. It MAKES you look at Jim Crow and race relations and forces you to see how denigrating and upsetting this America was for so many of its citizens for so long.

1 comment:

Kim Aippersbach said...

I just read a dystopian sci-fi called Gutter Child that tries to convey exactly this experience in a speculative setting. It was well-done, and very hard to read. How much harder will it be to read the true story in the words of someone who experienced it. And to know that despite all the little advances in civil rights and general awareness of the problem, things haven't really changed!

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