Study Guide

Black Boy Chapter 9

By Richard Wright

Chapter 9

  • Richard is looking for a job. Again.
  • He takes the first one he can get, as a porter at a clothing store. The owners are terrible. It’s not just that their prices are bad and their clothes are worse, but they actually kick and slap their customers. Sounds a little like a Black Friday at Wal-Mart, only even less classy.
  • One morning, Richard sees the owners assault a black woman on the street, right in front of a police officer. Luckily, the police officer steps in—to arrest the woman. That’s what happens to people who don’t pay up, the owners tell Richard.
  • Another time, Richard is making deliveries on the store bike, and the tire goes flat. As he walks home, some white guys offer to pick him up. It ends—can you guess? Badly. He forgets to call them "Sir," so naturally they hit him in the face with a whiskey bottle.
  • He turns down the ride.
  • Not angry enough? Here’s another anecdote for you. One night Richard is making deliveries in a white neighborhood and some white policemen come behind him with guns pointed at him. They stop him, search him, and are bummed out when they can't find any reason to jail him. We sure are lucky that things like that don’t happen any more.
  • Finally, one day at work the boss’s son asks him why he doesn't laugh and smile like the other black people. Richard points out that there’s not much to joke about.
  • This apparently is not the right answer, because the son throws some money at Richard and tells him to get out of his store.
  • Richard is fed up with all his employment problems. He asks his friend Griggs how to find a job—or keep a job, which Griggs points out is his real problem.
  • Griggs knows all about Richard's escapades with jobs this summer because the white people have been talking about him, and he’s basically blacklisted. Griggs tells him he needs to start acting like a stereotypical black Southern person. This might be good advice for keeping a job, but we’re pretty sure it’s bad advice for, you know, life.
  • Anyway, Griggs gets Richard a job with an optical company run by a white man from up north. At first, Richard follows Griggs’s advice and everything’s great.
  • Then Richard opens his big mouth again and tells his white coworkers that he’s supposed to be learning a trade, not just cleaning up after them. Pretty soon, snide comments turn into a full-on confrontation.
  • Richard has no way out, because anything he says will break the Southern code of conduct. His coworkers have him backed against a wall. This scene shows a rare time when Richard is doing everything right for once, and it all still turns out horribly. In the end Richard runs home, only barely escaping getting beaten up or worse.
  • The next day Richard goes back to the store to collect his paycheck and talk to the Yankee boss. He wants to explain what happened, but the guys are standing right there and Richard starts crying. He takes his money and leaves.
  • Again, the chapter ends with Richard deciding to get the heck out of the South.