Use Of Language In The Expression Of Racism

Project and Seminar Material for Linguistics and Communication

Use Of Language In The Expression Of Racism


Obviously, it has been brought to mind that racism is one of the major issues in Black American literature and has triggered concerns over the years. This study will attempt to make readers realize these themes in Richard Wright’s Black Boy by analyzing the concept of racial segregation of Black in America. We will examine the historical perspective of Black writing narrative and the effects of racism, which include poverty, hunger assault etc. and the ways through which the blacks reacted to racism. We can claim that Black American literature was written to oppose racism and oppression in all ramifications and also to gain self pride and identity.

Chapter One


1.1 Background To The Study

Racism changes its form, as well as strength, over time and from place to place. It manifests itself in different forms in Australia today. Indeed, it is this changing quality of racism which makes it difficult to identify and challenge, and which helps make racism so contentious an issue today. First, people are identified as members of a group because of their physical appearance, culture or ethnic origin, real or supposed. Secondly, they are judged according to the presumed characteristics of that group. Thus people are being labelled, and those labels are often on the basis of stereotypes of the group (Cardwell, 1991).

Stereotypes are generalised images of people in a particular group or category, which are held whether or not most, or even some, people in that category fit the image. We are constantly categorising people and things, and making generalisations about them, for we have neither the time nor the information to make new judgments each time we meet an individual or enter into a new situation. However, stereotypes are relatively fixed generalisations, which are reinforced by selective perception and selective forgetting — we notice characteristics or behaviour which confirms our views; we overlook or rationalise away the many exceptions (Beaver & Harold, 1974). Hence stereotypes are exaggerated or distorted pictures of others. Even where they reflect elements of truth, these are usually misinterpreted, or combined with inaccurate and derogatory images. This is made especially easy because we hold stereotypes about many groups without having any personal experience of them (Brown, 1969).

Racism in literary studies is defined by Wikipedia as the belief the of genetic factors which constitute race, are the primary determinants of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produces an inherent superiority of a particular race. Racism effects are called racial discrimination. Although the term racism usually denotes race based on prejudice, violence, dislike, discrimination or oppression. Racism is also defined simply as a reflection of the economic system and its cultural, ethnic and political ways. The concept of racism is derived from the word race and it is believed that one racial or ethnic group is inferior to another and the unequal treatment is therefore justified.

According to Charles V. Hamilton and Kwame Ture they defined racism as “A prediction of decision and policies on consideration of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group”. On the other hand, oppression is defined by the encyclopedia as torture or degrading treatment and the use of threat or violence. It is also the exercise of power/authority in a burden, cruel or unjust manner. Oppression is also defined by Wikipedia as an act or instance of oppressing the state of being oppressed and the feeling of being heavily burdened; mentally or physically by troubles adverse conditions and anxiety (Charles, Hamilton and Kwame. 1986).

It is this experience of Black Slaves that Richard Wright tries to capture in BlackBoy (1945). In the text, Wright recalls the plight of the Africans that were sold into slavery between the early 1700’s and 1860’s through the convenience of their own fellow Africans. They were transplanted to American, Canada, the Caribbean Island and other parts of the world. The Africans taken into America were now referred to as “Black Americans” while those on the Caribbean Island are called “Afro Caribbean” but they all have a common roots and common problem- Racial Discrimination. The Africans faced a great ordeal trying to survive hardship on their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on arrival to America; they were conscripted into force labour, maltreated, abused and demoralized on the cotton fields and plantation where they were put to work as slaves. As a result of this hardship deprivation and degradation, the blacks began expressing themselves through Negro spirituals which marked the beginning of the artistic expressions of the emotion. They told stories of unpleasant experience of slavery and oppression through pamphlet and short stories, which formed the basic of Black writings and which were later referred to as “Slave Narrative” or “secret text” because they were written without the knowledge of the slave owners. This inhuman trade led to the transportation of Africans to American to work as slave on the plantation where they experienced unimaginable oppression from the white owner. Many youth are ignorant of this fact and see American as a peaceful place and a bed of roses.

1.2 Richard Wright’s Autobiography

Richard Wright, the grand son of slaves was born in Natchez Mississippi on 4th of September 1908. His father deserted the family in 1914. When Richard was ten years old, his mother had a paralytic shock. The family was extremely poor. After a brief education, he was forced to seek employment in other to support his mother. He had a difficult childhood which was characterized by hopelessness, insecurity and hunger as portrayed in his autobiography Novel, BlackBoy. Wright worked in a series of menial jobs in Memphis. He wanted to continue his education by using the local library but Jim Crow laws prevented this. Richard Wright solved this by pretending he was collecting a book for a white man.

After passing a civil service exam, Wright find a job as a post office clerk. When the wall street crash and the beginning of depression was over, Wright lost his job for a period. He found employment with the Negro Burial Society but that came to an end in 1931 and he was forced to go on relief after several jobs, the relief office found his work with the Federal Writer Project. This enabled him to publish his story Superstition in the Magazine Abbot’s Monthly.

In 1932, Wright began attending meeting of the literary group at the John Reed Club he meets several Marxist at the club and later in the year, he joined the American Communist Party. His poems, short stories and essays are accepted by various left using journal including the new masses and international literature, his poem Between The World And Me and a short story BigBoy Leaves Home were both based on the lunching of a black man that he had witnessed when he was a child.

In May 1937, Wright moved to New York where he became Harlem editor of the daily worker and a new literary quarterly new challenge. The following year, a collection of short stories about racism in the United States titled Uncle Tom’s Chicken was publish and Wright announced that all royalties would be used to help to pay the appeal cost of Earl Browder, the general secretary of the American Communist Party who had been sentenced to four years in prison for misusing a passport.

The publisher accepted Wright’s novel, Native Son in 1940. The book of the mouth club selected the novel as its March selection, therefore, ensuring large sales and publicity. Over a quarter of a million copies were sold within four weeks, making it the fastest selling large novel in twenty years. Wright’s next book, Twelve million Black Voices (1941) was a sociological study of black migration from the rural south to the urban north. By 1944, Wright left the American Communist Party and published an article in the Atlantic Monthly titled The God that Failed, his short novel, The Man Who Lived Underground appeared in 1944.

Wright’s powerful autobiography and our main concentration in the project, BlackBoy is a record of childhood and youth which was published in 1945. After then, there was a wave of great hostility towards black writers, so Richard Wright fled to Paris. In 1953, Wright published The Outsider and in 1954 Savage Holding was published, when he traveled to Ghana he wrote about his experience in Black power (1954). This was followed by a collection of essays. White listen (1957), The psychological reaction of the oppressed people and the literature of the Negro in the United States.

Wright final novel, The Long Dream was published in 1958. He died of a heart attack in Paris on 28th November 1960. Richard Wright was indeed a true voice of the Black Americans, every bit of his literary works sought to bring an end to physical and psychological oppression and also abolish racism and oppression.

1.3 Purpose Of Study

The purpose of this study is to determine the use language in the expression of racism of Richard Wright in his autobiography BlackBoy.

This essay concentrates on the theme of racism in Black American literature. Our intention is to show that racism indeed is a prominent theme in BlackBoy especially because the book was written during the Jim Crow era at a point where racism was very prominent in the American society.

It also looks at the personal understanding of the Blackman’s point of view and his situation. Examples of racism and oppression are cited in BlackBoy. This project exposes how racism and oppression affects the mentality and the way of living of the Black race, reducing them to a level of inferiority, in every aspect of their lives.

1.4 Scope And Limitation

Our scope and limitation is on the theme of racism in BlackBoy by Richard Wright so as to prevent the project from being untidy and ambiguous in nature. From intense research we believe that BlackBoy, an eye witness account is accurate enough to fully express the terms of racial segregation and oppression because it has made a strong impact on American literature with its strong commentary on the cultural, political, racial and social issues going on during the period of 20th century racism.

The very title of the book “BlackBoy” already gives us an idea of our thematic discussion because he uses the term ‘Black’ in the title to emphasize the fundamental racial facts of his life (the author Richard Wright); the black against the white. Black race subordinate to the white race which is the main and only scope and limitation.

1.5 Justification

Many works have been carried out on Black American literature majorly focusing on self identity and racism. For example Babalola (1992) “The concept of racism and crisis of self identity in James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain (1954) and George Lamming’s Water with Berries (1972) focused on aspect of racism. Both novels highlighted the concept of self identity. The present study will be different from the works mentioned above. It will shed more light on oppression experienced by the African’s using Richard Wright’s autobiographical novel {BlackBoy}.

1.6 Methodology

The methodology used in this project is a Carl Jung (1952) psychological approach in literature. It is believed that this approach will best expose the inner mind and psychological torture of the Black American characters in Black Boy. Oppression and Racism are better analysed, examined and portrayed through the workings of the intellectual thinking of those affected. This approach is the only approach that has helped to review visual and close insight of confrontations and conflicts between the Blacks and the Whites. Concentration is placed on the major character which serves as the representative character for the Blacks. Through his life experience, we can deduce the predicament of the Black Americans in South Africa.

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Mimicry and Black Face

Wright’s refusal to go down the path of nationalism and endow his black male subjects with racial consciousness to counter white hegemony underpins his critical skepticism of the availability of an easy and ready-to-hand exit from the closed structure of dominant white culture. Wary of whiteness’ humanistic self-centred mode of identification which can conceive of identity only in terms of racial fixity and cultural purity, his vehement denigration of black culture is guided by a critical will not to repeat the totalizing structures of whiteness by opting for a similar black nationalist identity that rests on the glorification of the same and the familiar while rejecting the Other and the different. This chapter will try to identify how he turns away from seeking strategic modes of resistance that would grant his black male subjects access to agency through an outside alternative that in attempting to overcome the existent hegemony ends up repeating and reproducing it. It argues that he negotiates sites of resistance and explores opening ups for agency from within the white humanistic totality itself, countering its crippling effects on black subjects through hybridity and mimicry.

Wright’s favoring of the two tropes of hybridity and mimicry is part of his critique of Enlightenment-based approaches to identity which view the closed structure of mimetic identification as totalities and try to unsettle them from an outside critical position. The problem with these approaches is that, in seeking to come up with an outside alternative to their object of critique, end up repeating its structures and totalities which they set out to dismantle. Hybridity and mimicry, on the contrary, show that racial structures never succeed in totally controlling racial relationships and that they can be destabilized from within. They reveal what Robert Young says about Derrida’s impossible totalities which “never succeed in producing a perfect structure of inclusions and exclusions, with the result that the unassimilable elements determine (and disallow) any totality which seeks to constitute itself as a totality by excluding them” (137). Hybridity and mimicry, in this light, tear open the essentialist and mimetic pretence on the basis of which dominant white hegemony preserves itself as a totality of shared values and identity predicated on the disavowal of its excluded and marginalized different others. They do so by performing another act of deconstruction which inscribes the black other in terms of its subject-position instead of reviving it as a form of pristine subaltern consciousness unaffected by the dominant white system.

Both hybridity and mimicry open the way for redrawing the theoretical premises of racial identification and the power relations underpinning them by questioning the hegemonic white totality while warding off any humanistic invocation or return of a substitute blackness based on racial exceptionalism. The emphasis on hybridity anchors black agency within the white system not as an alternative racial consciousness but as a subject position that calls it into question and keeps its positivist assumptions in suspense.

This is similar to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s subalternity which refuses the transformation of the marginal and subaltern into essentialism and stresses its position as a moment of crisis in the dominant historiography:

The arena of the subaltern’s persistent emergence into hegemony must always and by definition remain heterogeneous to the efforts of the disciplinary historian. The historian must persist in his efforts in this awareness, that the subaltern is necessarily the absolute limit of the place where history is narrativised into logic. (207)

The tropes of hybridity and mimicry affect the theoretical and political intervention necessary for the subaltern to speak, again in the words of Spivak, not from some site outside the hegemony or beyond it but by positioning the marginal subject in the space of in-between, on the racial limit and bar organizing and dividing blackness and whiteness along the lines of originary, stable and authentic identity. In the racial world of Wright’s fiction, it is the color-line that manages, maintains and essentializes blackness and whiteness and preserves the privileges and hierarchies which enable white supremacy to thrive on the denigration of black difference. Hybridity does not substitute one identity for another or trade one essentialism for another but works to disrupt the geographical, epistemological and political deployment of racial identities on both sides of the racial divide. By positioning subjectivity on the boundary and limit, hybridity as a form of heterogeneous mixing, according to Samira Kawash, is what:

appears as the limit, the rupture, the constitutive outside of identity. In this limit relation to identity, hybridity is not narrativizable, not subject to representation or positivist description. Heterogeneity or hybridity is the difference that interrupts the relation of same and different, a different different that does not relate to the order of the same. Hybridity does not conform to any law or follow any rule. Hybridity is rather what penetrates the certainties of narrative and the mimetic premise of representation, what sets knowledge scrambling to shore up its fragile assurances of certainty. (22)

Wright deploys the blackface or the minstrel mask as an African American hybrid cultural form that seeks to use the master’s tools against him. First used by white entertainers, the blackface mask was intended to serve and propagate anti-black stereotypes by focusing on and exaggerating the physical features of black people.

Viewing it from a mercantile perspective, Eric Lott stresses white performers’ commodification of the already negative image of the black subject through the minstrel show: “the minstrel show indeed seems a transparently racist curiosity, a form of leisure that, in inventing and ridiculing the slow-witted but irrepressible ‘plantation darky’ and the foppish ‘northern dandy negro,’ conveniently rationalized racial oppression” (15). This racist brand of blackface was first developed in the 1840s and 1850s to counter black people’s growing demands for equality, economic and political empowerment (Tuhkanen 34). White performers cultivated blackface as a central element in their theatrical performances and comic shows to entertain white audiences with stereotypical representations of black people. Yet as it is always the case with discursive practices where misrepresentation of difference is staged and congealed, blackface, according to Nathan Irvin Huggins, is also about an identity crisis that grips whiteness itself, since it speaks to whites’ fears about the loss of their civilization just as it ostensibly preaches black savagery and lack of refinement. Huggins argues that white performers brought into the open the deep-seated fears of anarchy, irrationality and lack of discipline that threaten whites’ civilization; and in so doing mocked and contained them. These fears meant, he contends, that “The blackface minstrel provided a surrogate whose character combined the grotesque manners that would be offensive to civilized taste” (255).

The racially denigrating effect of blackface on black subjectivity is also echoed by Mikko Tuhkanen who contends that a good number of scholarly works on blackface show the extent to which it “functions as a reflecting surface in which the image of the white audiences is projected according to social, political, and psychological exigencies– and at a considerable expense to African Americans” (36). When black performers took to the stage of racial representations they creolized and hybridized the mask, manipulating the reservoir of negative images that constituted white stereotypical knowledge about them and legitimized white supremacy and power. Wearing the mask, black minstrels were able through the strategies of acting, dissembling, duplication and parody to bring the dominant historiography to a moment of crisis and suspend its truth claims. Through play and performance, black entertainers acted from behind the veil of stereotypical representation to challenge its assumptions from within and to return the white gaze that racialized them. The hybrid nature of blackface strategic intervention in the dominant hegemony resides in the mixed character of the challenge it mounts to the crippling racial effects of the stereotype. For black performers do not lay claim to some pure and imaginary alternative to be mobilized against white stereotypical representation but stage a performance predicated on the stereotype itself. They wear the blackface mask and in so doing their strategies of intervention are always already corrupted and inhabited by the mask of the racial stereotype. Tuhkanen stresses the liberating act of this process of creolization and hybridization that black minstrelsy brings to the white stereotype: Minstrel theorists suggest that black performers took the tradition to a new direction, creolized it for ends that were not foreseeable from the vantage point of blackface history. We can thus suggest that, although blackface has always been considered as a dehumanizing, distorting mask imposed on African and colonized subjects, this mask, when actively deployed, can also denote the racially marked subject’s becoming inaccessible to the culture otherwise bent on determining him or her. (37)

Tuhkanen’s emphasis on creolization, cross-breeding and mixing as key hybrid features of blackface performance unveils the liberating potential of black minstrelsy in two ways. First, the black minstrel’s duplicitous performance that mimics and subverts the negative and racist import of the mask destabilizes the myths of origin and cultural purity necessary for the sustainability of an identity articulated in terms of the fixity and certainty of the racial category. Second, the duality and doubleness that result from blackface as a trope of imitation and mixing produce black subjects who are split between both white and black worlds, subjects who reside on the dividing line as a site of contestation.

These black performers who have lost claim to originary and authentic forms of identity and have to see themselves through the white mask they wear are hybrid subjects in the manner of W. E. B. Du Bois’ double-consciousness. Du Bois’ concept challenges the fixity and essentialism of the color-line by introducing the idea of the veil which holds that black subjects live two selves and a double-consciousness where they have to dissemble and act to meet the demands of the white stereotype and accommodate the white gaze while preserving their own consciousness as blacks. As a performer, the black subject has to see himself through the eyes of the white master in order to survive and hide his black self behind his veil and mask of acquiescence. Du Bois explains his theory of double-consciousness as a hybrid splitting of subjectivity:

The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, a world which yields him no true consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (17)

This statement pictures a black subjectivity that is both ripped apart and held together by double-consciousness and the demands to wear the veil of survival to respond to the outside world while preserving one’s interiority. As an enabling double-vision and a challenging double-division, Du Boisian tropes of double-consciousness and the veil map a black hybrid form of identity that is endowed, according to Lewis R. Gordon,

“with a consciousness of pure exteriority in the face of lived experience of inferiority” (Existentia 31). As an awareness of identity as a bifurcated subject position where blacks have to operate as both African and Americans, Du Bois presents the black subject as a mimic man who leads a life of make-believe and performance, putting on the veil of the stereotype that denigrates him while mocking it and manipulating it to his own ends.

Bernard W. Bell makes this point about the “two-ness” of black subjectivity, stressing its empowering hybrid and ambivalent character: “As double vision, it is an ambivalent, laughing-to-keep-from-crying perspective toward life as expressed in the use of irony and parody in African American folklore and formal art” (‘Voices’ 137).

In Native Son, blackface minstrelsy is deployed by the main character, Bigger Thomas, to intervene politically and at the level of representation in the dominant white discourse that defines him as an inferior human being and dispossesses him of his political and civil rights. It comes in the wake of a series of incidents and scenes that underscore his entrapment and confinement in the white order. These scenes involve the humiliating life of his family in a one-room kitchenette, the hanging of the poster of the attorney Buckley, whose menacing gaze reminds Bigger of his limited choices under white law and the high-flying and speedy plane which unleashes his fury about his lack of mobility and freedom under the geographical and social map of a segregated city that forces him to live at its margins. These three scenes represent the three pillars of white power from which Bigger is excluded: his family life stands for his exclusion from white affluence and economic opportunity, Buckley’s gaze crystalizes white law and the speedy plane speaks for white freedom and power.

After these early scenes which dramatize his subjection, Bigger and his friend Gus engage in a play that mocks whites’ ways and manners, subverting through blackface performance the stereotypical images cultivated by white society to shut them off from citizenship and agency. Even though the two black comrades play white instead of black roles, their blackface performance lies in their refined acting skills which enable them to hide from the white gaze and authority thanks to their knowledge of white ways and manners. Based on the trickster’s tactics of deception, cheating and dissemblance, the two black boys’ blackface minstrelsy aims to showcase their deep understanding of white people’s mindset as well as their command of pretension and acting skills to manipulate it to their advantage. In this scene, Bigger surprises his friend by suggesting: “let’s play ‘white.’” After a moment of hesitation, Gus joins Bigger in a role playing activity in which they recreate the symbols of white power, ironically laughing at the army, finance and politics. As they trade roles, the two black comrades imitate a powerful army general called J. P. Morgans, talk about the market and pretend to be the president and secretary of state. Putting on the veil of the black minstrel by assuming the roles of white symbols of power, the two boys’ perform acts of mimicry that aim to parody this triangle of power which sustains the structures governing American society. Kenneth Kinnamon captures this point when he stresses the significance of the boys’ acting and performance to the white systems of which they are victims: “The youths are themselves nonpolitical, but the white activities Wright has them imitate are precisely those which he and other communists viewed as typical of the American capitalist system: warfare, high finance, and political racism” (‘Native’ 121).

“Playing white,” Bigger and Gus are shown to give military orders, discuss financial investments and take care of matters of rule and government. Wearing the white veil, the two black boys imitate white manners and mimic their attitudes, creating mobility and action which are denied to them by the conditions of poverty and subjection in the black side of the town. Their performance enacted in terms of their resemblance to and difference from white people does not only grant them political access to spheres of privilege and power exclusive to whites but also positions them as hybrid and in-between subjects who inhabit the borderline, which is marked by racial mixing and contamination, and against which whiteness and blackness define themselves as essentialist and pure modes of identification. This similarity and difference, the “not quite / not white” mimic subject-position engendered by the mobilization of the white veil, unleashes an ambivalence that cannot be assimilated or incorporated by the mimetic positivity of whiteness and blackness. This ambivalence, which originates in the mark of the Other in white supremacist representation, pictures Bigger and his friend Gus as a slippage, an excess and a difference located on the racial dividing line, threatening the purity and fixity of blackness, but especially whiteness, which determines and defines racial relations across the racial border.


This study has sought to map out the use of language in the expression of racism in  the fractured nature of black boy by Richard Wright. Research across this theme has shown the mutual relationship between the experience of fragmented subjectivity among black male characters and the absence of the social and cultural referents that traditionally are credited with providing subjects with consciousness to develop as mature and whole. In Wright’s narratives, black masculinity undergoes different forms of fragmentation, ranging from physical dismemberment to moral and personal negation. Largely set within a racist context marked by segregation,

Wright’s fiction features black male figures who suffer fragmentation through violence against their bodies and their very physical being. Irrespective of whether these black characters struggle against the challenges of racism in the South or the North, they are always haunted by the specter of violence in the form of beatings, lynchings and other kinds of extrajudicial killings. This physical violence, which also involves starving and keeping blacks hungry, is deployed by white power to ensure black males’ powerlessness and deprivation of agency. In this way, it functions as a disciplinary strategy that requires the destruction of black male bodies to maintain them under white control and supremacy.

A central contention in this study is that the disfigurement of black male bodies has also to do with the deployment of discursive representation in ways that are no less devastating and debilitating than the effects of physical violence. For if black characters in these novels can challenge the white order’s use of violence by accepting death, stripping it of the power to control their lives, they can only play with and manipulate the discursive structures and ideological networks that define them as inferior and subsequently banish them from citizenship and the rights that come along with it. Black male subjects claim agency by embracing death, undermining its value as a coercive tool, but never succeed in totally subverting the discursive networks that govern them and circumscribe their marginal place. Instead of ditching these discursive regimes altogether, black characters settle for manipulating the white order through trickery and dissemblance, opting for hybrid subject positions and capitalizing on their cleavage and fragmentation to achieve agency.

In all the novels under analysis, discursive representation confines black males to estrangement and psychic disorientation. Through different discursive practices and ideological myths, the white order promotes a form of misrepresentation that defines black masculinity in terms of absolute difference, producing black males as cultural outsiders and social rebels. In Native Son, Bigger Thomas inhabits a world torn between fantasy and desire on the one hand and his constraining and suffocating place under white rule on the other hand. These discordant forces that threaten to rip his life asunder and drive him over the edge of sanity mask a yet more troubled aspect of Bigger’s life. His recurrent flights of fantasy in the face of the horrors of his unbearable living conditions are survival strategies to avoid having to recognize and deal with the self-annihilating effects of his cleavage and fragmentation. As an emasculated and helpless black male, he is so deeply marked and formed by white hegemony that he represses the root causes of his predicament into his unconscious, barring them from the realm of his conscious day-to-day life. As a split character formed by the power of Jim Crow society, Bigger must keep the sources of his humiliation and powerlessness locked in his unconscious while entertaining a life of fantasy far removed from the real social interpellations and power questions that weigh heavily on his life and determine his being. Bigger expresses this state of cleavage through his repeated assertions that he lives behind a wall, indicating the he has to live behind a mask to survive. He must first hide his shame and feeling of emasculation from himself and then hide himself behind a network of desire and fantasy to escape having to deal with his plight.

Such an experience of fragmented subjectivity accounts for Bigger’s irrational responses to the world around him and his failure to cultivate healthy social relationships or develop a positive sense of life. His relation to the black community is marked by antagonism and violence, as he hates his family, coerces his friends and exploits and eventually and cold-bloodedly murders his girlfriend. Bigger’s attitude toward the white world is no more constructive or meaningful. He expresses wrath at whites even before crossing the racial border to work as chauffeur for the wealthy Daltons. One day on from his stay in the white family’s mansion, Bigger murders their daughter, blames the murder on her communist boyfriend and unleashes a relentless manhunt that sees him tried before a court of law and finally jailed pending execution.

Decentered subjectivity takes different forms and assumes various expressions in the narratives covered by this study. In addition to the above, it can mean literal and symbolic emasculation which figures as an overarching theme in all of the texts considered. The use of lynching by white mobs as an extrajudicial method in the South produces compliant black bodies and deprives black male subjects of action and selfassertion. Generally involving the dismemberment of the entire black body, but most significantly the mutilation of the male organ, lynch scenes abound in Wright’s fiction as both a form of historical documentation of racist threats against black masculinity and a literary reflection on the dominant white patriarchal order’s refusal to share the privileges of manhood with black subjects. Lynching reinforces the Manichean order which sustains white supremacy by casting blacks outside the realm of masculinity and limiting this to whites. In this way, it accrues a gendered slant pushing black males into the realm of femininity and away from manhood. Because it targets the black penis and leaves indelible scars on the moral fabric of black males, lynching is seen in these narratives as a form of literal and metaphoric rape against blacks who are seen as females.

Black male fragmentation also functions in the same way in its relation to the black community. For as much as the tension between black masculine characters and their kindred reveals their feeling of homelessness and psychological malaise, it also foregrounds the mythological character of race and folk culture as stable categories of identification. As with the white community, the fracture of black masculinity attests to the black community’s attempt to suppress dissent and its unwillingness to recognize heterogeneity. Driven by a nationalist desire, it defines itself and preserves its racial imaginings by producing black misfits who are pushed to the edge of social experience. According to this mutual process, the black sense of community and racial consciousness are sustained at the site where black masculinity is denied and where its bid for voice and difference are crushed. All the novels analyzed in this study feature black male characters who are sidelined by their familial and social demands for conformity and subjected to violence or completely excommunicated for their rebellion against the social values defining the black status quo.

The various texts discussed in this thesis are significant for Wright’s overall attempt to unveil the covert metaphysics by which whiteness presents itself as a homogeneous and legitimate structure of identification as it constructs black masculine subjecthood through the negative lenses of the stereotype. These texts bring this discrete metaphysics to light by interrogating whiteness’s humanist moral values and truth networks through an encounter with the black masculine which draws parallels between its racialization and white identity’s desire for power. This study has shown that this approach enables a critical reading of whiteness that disrupts it as a stable category of identification and reveals the fissures and cracks which threaten to tear it asunder. It has demonstrated how whiteness is as much an invention as blackness and that the construction of the black masculine along the lines of the stereotype hides a similar and related construction of white identity in opposite terms.

The textual analysis of this metaphysics, through Savage Holiday, “Lawd Today!” and Native Son, permits the questioning of whiteness’s Manichean order and brings its contradictions and ambivalences into the open. The three narratives reveal in different ways how this metaphysics rests on whiteness’s complex relationship to embodiment. They complicate its claims that white identity is unraced and disembodied because it has more to do with the soul than the body. Savage Holiday, in particular, explores whiteness’s presumed disembodiment through the repressed desires, moral pretentions and sexual fantasies of its embattled protagonist, Erskine Fowler. A middleclass figure and symbol of the American Dream of hard work and success, Fowler is pictured in terms of his avowed professional and religious ethics. Bodiless and exclusively defined on the grounds of his intellect and spirituality, he is both a retired man who, thanks to his work values and intelligence, is able to make it to the top of his profession and a religious preacher set on a sacred mission to reform his neighbor, Mabel.

Yet Fowler’s suppression of the body as Other and savage haunts him throughout the dramatic turns and twists of the story, casting doubt over his religious worldview and shattering the certainties which form his white identity and account for his social status and professional success. It calls his white credentials into question at the very outset of the novel when he locks himself naked outside his apartment, finding himself trapped in the prison of his body. Hiding in the elevator from the social gaze and keen to avoid being seen without clothes, Fowler goes into a frenzy literally to shield his body from public view just as he has banished it from his own self-conception. Repeatedly described by the narrator as a beast, he enters the world of the narrative completely split between his overembodiment as predator and his messianic white moral errand to reform his warwidow neighbor. As the story unfolds, this fracture between body and soul only gets deeper and more disastrous. So, in spite of his attempt to put a moral and religious veneer on his relation to his past and present, it turns out that the sexual memories of his mother’s love affairs and his physical attraction to Mabel are the two forces that constitute the horizon of his life. Embodiment, in this regard, does not only destabilize Fowler’s white certainties of a centered self that is unraced and more soul than body but also reveals that his ideology of disembodiment is disastrously hegemonic and controlling. A patriarchal figure par excellence, Fowler associates the body with femininity and in seeking to control it ends up destroying it. This is why he commits a symbolic act of matricide and murders Mabel out of his sense of guilt and sexual lust.

In addition to exposing the instability of whiteness as a category by revealing the contradictions at the heart of its claims and certainties about the self, this study is also concerned to disclose the discursive strategies and practices it uses to invent the black Other. Destabilizing white identity as a referent, in this sense, involves both pointing to its ambivalent claims about the self and its construction of the Other. This thesis argues that whiteness banishes the body as savage and a locus of irrational impulses from its mode of identification only to attach it to black people and fix them in its negative representation. Focusing on embodiment, this thesis argues that whiteness constructs blackness on the basis of physical appearance and skin color. Such a kind of seeing, both literal and metaphoric, functions in two significant ways that unveil white identity’s lack of coherence and its involvement in a production of power antithetical to its truth claims. First, it highlights the interdependence between whiteness and blackness, underscoring the fact that the invention of the Other is underpinned by a latent process whereby the self is also invented. By showing that black embodiment is not natural or given but a result of certain discursive formations, this study also uncovers whiteness’s silence on its own expulsion of the body as constitutive of subjectivity. It reveals that the framing of black masculinity in the realm of physical visibility allows whiteness to claim an identity which is not only disembodied and unraced but also natural and given. As much as this dynamic of black hyperembodiment arrests and confines black subjects in the field of visibility by reducing their human value to their skin color it also ensures that white identity passes as an invisible and taken-for-granted norm.

On a second level of difference-making, whiteness racializes blackness by imprisoning and keeping it under its gaze. The processes of looking that stereotypically produce black men as mere bodies and lacking in humanity also betray the uneven distribution of power across the racial divide. They attest to the positions and structures of subjection in which black men are held under the white order and which are maintained to preserve whites’ privileges and supremacy. Racialization defines the different ways in which white looks lock black males in the racial visibility of skin color, marking them off as different and inferior in order to legitimize their subjugation. Wright’s fiction explores these strategies of seeing and looking which establish and sustain the Manichean situation in which dispossessed and powerless black male subjectivity is kept apart from the rights of citizenship and privileges of the American Dream by the omnipotent white patriarchal figure.

Although present in all the narratives covered by this study, the deployment of looking and seeing as tools of control and authority over the black male body is particularly evident in Native Son. Bigger is depicted as all-body and deprived of voice and agency. He is framed and arrested by the white gaze right from his first encounter with public space when, just a few pages into the story, he comes across a large poster picturing the attorney, Buckley, pointing his finger at Bigger and engulfing him in his gaze. Later when he crosses the racial border separating white and black neighborhoods to work for the wealthy Daltons, Bigger experiences the imprisoning effect of the white gaze for the second time. After his initial arrest by the gaze of Buckley, the figure of the law, Bigger is yet again imprisoned by the white gaze in the form of economic authority. His short stay at the house entraps him in multiple instances of confinement where he is reminded of his body by white looks. At this stage, Bigger’s body becomes a sign of his inferior economic and racial status in relation to the Daltons who stand for the forces of business and capitalism and their exclusion of black people. After murdering Mary, Bigger’s enframement becomes literal as the media constructs and circulates his public image as a beast and predator who rapes and kills the symbol of white beauty. This series of arresting frames and confining looks rushes Bigger to his only logical fate under the white regime of visual surveillance when the court of law condemns him as guilty and sentences him to death. Bigger’s shame with regard to his body and his constant feeling of physical unease when he is subjected to whites’ looks bears testimony to his imprisonment by these different forces that control his position in public space as guilty criminal. Law, business and the media are three institutions that define and determine access to citizenship rights. They exclude Bigger from his individual rights and from public space by fixing him in visibility as less than human.

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