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Themes

What is race? Why does everyone care about it so much? How can we learn to overcome racism? Who keeps racism going? These are the questions that Richard asks as soon as he is old enough to ask them. (For comparison, here are some of the questions we were asking ourselves at the same age: do I really have to learn algebra? How can I get a bigger allowance without having to do more chores? Will my friends laugh at me if I wear the same jeans twice in one week?) He’s an observant kid, and he can see even the North doesn’t let him escape his race. What can we do about it? Well, that’s just the answer Black Boy tries to find.

Questions About Race

  1. Why is Granny black instead of white? Could anything make a person who looks black be considered white?
  2. How does racism affect relationships between Richard and white people in the South? What about in the North? How are the relationships different?
  3. If Richard had been born today, would he have still written Black Boy?
  4. Are "positive stereotypes" (Asian people are good at math, black people are good at sports, etc.) harmless? Consider the old stereotype that black people are always happy, which Richard gets in trouble for not upholding. Why do you think his boss needs to have that stereotype confirmed? What’s in it for him?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Wright presents race as hereditary, but not in a genetic way. It has to do with what family you’re born into rather than appearance or ethnicity.

Both white and black people perpetuate racism in Black Boy. Black people like Harrison and Shorty do as much to keep the system going as the white people do.

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