Focusing on the stories “Cora Unashamed”, “Berry” and “Passing” from Langton Hughes’s book “The ways of the white folks” this esse will firstly discuss how race and racism emerges in the text and how I use these narratives to not only critique racism, but to also contextualise them in South African.
Post World-War II, Race shifted from the prerogative of the natural science, (where it became biologically inclined in ways of measuring a negro’s head shape amongst other things to reach a conclusion that Europeans were more intellectual capable because of how their skulls were shaped), to the prerogative of social science, this is when we began to think of race as a social construct. However, this change did not change anything in the racial hierarchy other than all that the basis for validation were no longer those of the natural science. Futhermore, race and racism are two distinct things but however share a common link as the other cannot exist without the other, vice-versa. This brings us to the concept of identity, and all identities being relational to one another. Identity constitutes of two elements in them, being the objective markers, which are empirical markers of any identity for instance as a black person my skin colour, hair texture are my objective markers. Followed by the subjective markers, which are your roles and your acceptance of those roles. The joining of these two markers begin the problem of race and in order to identify racism it goes back to race.
Those who know, define racism as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation or maintaining subjugation. In other words one cannot be a racist unless he has the power to subjugate. What blacks are doing is merely to respond to a situation in which they find themselves the objects of white racism (Biko, 1987) We are in the position in which we are deemed inferior and hated because of our skin and the problem lies in racism.
Racism is a spectrum, with its varying degrees and learned behaviours reinforced by the (white) society everyday and this is depicted. In the chapter, Cora unashamed, where we read about Cora Jenkins. She was what the people referred to as a negress, and a nigger. This word ‘negress’ or negro meant a black person and it came out about a project by European taxonomists who categorized people and things. They further established that racist schemer of human belonging or hierarchy with the Caucasoid at the top, which were the whites who were described as the epitome of everything brilliant, be it beauty, intelligence and other characteristics for a human. Followed the mongloy then lastly at the bottom the negros, which were the blacks, who were seen to lack the epitome of human subjectivity, all that the whites had. Blacks were assumed to lack these capabilities, what Fanon describes as ‘the zone of non-being’. In education, health, income, every aspect of life, blacks were barely at a subsistence level while whites had the highest standards in the world (Mandela,1994;384).
Furthermore,in the text we read that, Cora worked for one of the rich white folks, the Studevants who treated her like a dog. Them white folks treating her like a dog shows how white people always regard blacks as not to be human. The book further goes to mention that Cora had to get used to being treated like a dog or else go work somewhere else or go jobless. Due to this we can start looking at racism as a system in Satre’s (2006) definition and always systemised in a way that is to leave the blacks at a disadvantage, with no choice but to stand it. Which is something that is still con-current in contemporary South Africa for instance where blacks work as twice as the other men only to receive less pay and being treated unfairly. In a place where white men’s pets, be it a cat or dog, have a paid medical aid for them by their white owner and the black person who works for him/her have non-of those benefits but are expected to work like slaves while they(whites) live like kings. Additionally, in all aspects racism leaves the white men at an advantage. It doesn’t matter to what degree a black man is prejudiced. It further epitomizes a process of ecological differentiation which systematically deprecates black human beings to exclude them from the whites' moral community. As such, Africans are transformed into objects of exploitation to be manipulated (Biko, 1987).
Moreover, In this power advantage, the Studendwhites ‘owned’ Cora and because she was from a poor family of eight children, her mother was very ill and considering how the economy was in a state of paralysis, she had to ‘grow-up’ quite school at eighth grade and had to go work for the Studevants from a young age. Which is something that the system of racism further does to the black man, it cripples them from acquiring a better education where Eurocentric school curriculum(s), code of conducts, racial profiling and other racial ways are in place to force them to drop out and eventually slave-work for the whiteman. The system is pitiless (Satre, 2006) As a result, white people remain in control of the economy and these institutions that further lead to social and economic inequality. To make the lie live even longer, blacks have to be denied any chance of accidentally proving their equality with white men (biko, 1987). For this reason, there is a lack of training in skilled work, and slim professional possibilities for blacks.
Even if a white person can say that they’re not racist, while calling themselves allies of black people, the evil system would still harm people of the other race to benefit them. It is because the system by its very nature effortlessly destroys all attempts at development; it can only maintain itself by becoming harder and more inhuman each day (Satre, 2006;49).
Race was not only created to justify a racially exploitative economic system, it was invented to lock people of color into the bottom of it (Olouo, 2018) in the chapter ‘Berry’ is the story of Millberry Jones, who is hired by a home for crippled children despite being black. He is paid less than the other workers. Which is something that the white people do, pay blacks less crazy amounts. The chapter further goes to mention that Berry was not educated, due to less schools being available for negroes in Georgia. This was yet another way just like Cora’s story, to exclude the black person from opportunity and progress so that there is more to gain, for the white man who deemes himself superior. Secondly, blacks have been seen as objects of exploitation to be manipulated, as such even the other workers,always found a way to impose their work on Berry, with Mrs Osborn always finding something extra for him to do, they took him for a ‘work- horse’. He was worked off with no days off or a little extra pay. When an accident occurs with one of the children, they take the opportunity to fire Berry without not having paid him.Thus in SA post-apartheid it is difficult and expensive to be poor. It is the poor people who live far from town and therefore have to spend more money on transport to come and work for white people even with the little that they get paid and what happens when they unfairly get fired? Who pays for the matter to be taken to court, if it gets there?
In addition as long as racism still exists, to exploit black lives it should be something that upsets us. We should aim at defeating the structure, the system. We must never forget that without the system changing or abolished in whatever means possible and without efforts to battle the explotative ways in which systemic racism manipulates black lives, our efforts and abilities at ending systemic racial oppression will fail.
Moreover, during the period of apartheid, one of the worst crimes you could commit was having sexual relations with a person of another race which could eventually lead to a coloured person being born. Which was one of the limitations of race science because whites failed to maintain their ‘purity’ and superiority. And this is how the story of Jack in “Passing” is told. But am confused just like Jack as to why Whites hate coloreds so much. Is it because that they are the ‘suspect-proof’ that Jack says they are? Are the whites angry that they failed in maintaining their supremacy and purity? that the existence of coloureds constantly reminds them of that. In ‘Passing’ Jack agrees to the notion that black people are mediocre humans who are dishonest and thieves. This falls propaganda always aims at naming the black man the suspect. If For instance, an amount of five hundred rands was declared stolen in a room constituting of two black man and two white man, the black man would be the first suspect because this is how these stereotypes are created to belittle the blackman’s worth. For Jack, whiteness epitomizes omnipotence “I am going to marry white and live white, and if any of my kids are born dark I’ll swear they aren’t mine' (Hughes, 1962;53-54) This shows us how whiteness has become the standard for everything. Black lives are losing their ‘consciousness’ and in this case their ‘black consciousness’ which Biko defines as in essence the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their operation - the blackness of their skin - and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude. It aims to show the lie that black is an aberration from the 'normal' which is white.