Art, Politics and Protest
In Richard Wright's , The Ethics of Living Jim Crow the whites in the south primarily held the power over the way society worked. In order to hold onto their power they utilized physical abuse. Whites also held onto their power by inflicting fear into the African Americans by constantly reminding them that they were "lucky" to be alive. From borrowing books at the library to witnessing the tragic abuse to a black female, Wright learned that the Jim Crow laws only instituted fear into African American's as he experienced these injustices first hand. Simple day to day occurrences could lead to almost losing his life just for being an African American.
From a young age Richard tasted the effects of the Jim Crow laws, living across the railroad tracks from the white neighborhood. Although he was the victim of being wounded with a glass bottle, his mother beat him and said he was "never, never, under any conditions, to fight white folks again... She finished by telling me that I ought to be thankful to God as long as I lived that they didn't kill me." (pg 4-5) From that first experience of physical abuse Richard was able to develop a fear of the power whites held over them. When he moved to Mississippi, he lived in the Black Belt otherwise known as a place where all the local institutions were run by primarily African Americans. The Black Belt represents the segregation that he had to endure living in the period of the Jim Crow laws. It would be much easier living in the primarily black neighborhoods as opposed to living near to the white neighborhoods, where blacks were subject to hate crimes and further injustices.
In order to conserve the power they have over the African Americans, the whites expected blacks to accept inferiority. The southern whites expected to be called sir or mister by any African American regardless of whether they had just met or even if they were coworkers in the same environment. When Richard was confronted about referring to his white coworker by his name without use of sir he grew frightful thinking “I would have been pleading guilty to having uttered the worst insult a Negro can utter to a southern white man.” (pg 7) In this way the Jim Crow laws allowed white supremacists not only physical abuse but mental abuse as well through communication.