The Mind at Odds

Essay by Cooper Smith

(Note: all bibliographic information, including the works cited page, has been removed from this essay)

Throughout the history of mankind, the idea of racism, that a group of humans is superior to another group based on exterior characteristics, has always been present. But where did racism and the idea of social inequality come from in the first place? The mind. Due to our innate desire to fit in with others as human beings, the mind is influenced greatly by people who surround it, namely close peers. A person who lives through racism every day is going to have a different perspective on the matter compared to one who does not. But racism does not just spontaneously happen; it is something that develops deep within the mind, something the human race can avoid. Racism occurs because of the human mind thinking of it in the first place: if there was not a thought of racism in the first place, then it would not be present today. Racism has a ripple effect, spreading through communities, starting at youth, so that by the time one reaches adulthood, their prejudices are ingrained in their mind and thus normal. This can be seen through the memoir Black Boy by Richard Wright, which exposes life through the perspective of a child raised in a community infiltrated with prejudice and distorted thoughts of white supremacy during the the 1930’s and 40’s.  It is well shown throughout history that racism is brought by the way people think about it, which is contributed by surrounding environments and influences.

Racism first begins because of surrounding people influencing a person’s values and thoughts. This is evident in that when a person is growing up, they tend to favor their parents’ opinion and take the parents position in terms of things such as race relations, white supremacy, and politics in general. In the book Black Boy, Richard Wright states that his perspective is influenced a lot by his ill mother. “I had begun to notice that my mother became irritated when I questioned her about white and blacks, and I could not quite understand it. I wanted to understand these two sets of people who lived side by side but never touched, it seemed, except in violence.” Wright’s mother was conflicted, as she did not understand why discrimination was occurring. She did not have an answer for Richard as to why it happened. This stress and confusion wore off on Richard as a child because he also did not understand the divided line between white and black people. Clearly, interactions with others greatly influences one’s perspective and opinion on racism.

The environment lived in and surrounding a person also influences a person’s perspective on racism. If a person is living in a less fortunate place or in poverty-like conditions, it may make them immune to racism due to feeling both hopeless and helpless. This is well represented in Richard Wright’s life when he is trying to get a job from a white lady. “‘You’ll never be a writer.’” In this statement, the woman is not only putting down Richard and his ambitions, but she is expressing a greater disdain for the black population as a whole. Richard allows her to say this without saying anything in response because he is living in such bad, poverty-like conditions. He is so hungry and so used to being put down that discrimination does not affect him. Poverty, in a general sense, is overrepresented by ethnic groups and tends to suffer when political or economic policies are imposed in area, which negatively affects the group of people. This then leads to the population in area being stuck in low paying jobs, creating the environment they live in and the stereotypes that come with it.

It may be argued that racism and poverty are institutionalized and directed towards African Americans. Because racism has the ability to spread and become a social norm, it may seem inescapable. No matter where Richard went he faced racism. When Richard moved to Chicago, he was an avid writer, but was still stuck with demanding, low paying jobs that would only last for a short period. Despite moving north, all of the adversity and struggle Richard had faced in the South was still present. However, all of this adversity shaped him and led him to success because poverty made him immune and not worry about racism. Poverty also limits the ability of an individual, but at the same time makes them stronger because it gives motivation.

Although racism has always existed throughout the history of mankind, it only occurs because of the human mind thinking of it. During Richard Wright’s teen years in Black Boy he is constantly discriminated against. For example, when he was trying to get a book from a library, he states, “I knew now that I had won; she was thinking of other things and the race question had gone out of her mind.” This quote shows that the librarian’s mind had “the race question.” It was instinct to think of it because that is what her environment and surroundings had made her do. This shows the ignorance the human mind can develop, and that the human race could avoid racism if we did not even think of it. Later on in Richard’s life as he grew more intelligent, he came to the realization that racism is not something that just happens as a result of skin color, it is something different. He believes the treatment of whites and blacks is a perception. This shows that those who are wise realize racism is something much deeper than skin color. It is well presented that indeed racism stirs from the mind compared to just happening because of physical characteristics.

Though the human race has continued to evolve and come to the conclusion that everyone is equal, racism is still present today. Many laws have been passed and put in place to prevent discrimination and social inequality from occurring, but there are still some instances of racial discrimination, in places like the education system. The 1940’s education system and modern day education systems are similar in that there is unequal treatment of students. In today’s society, although there are no longer segregated schools, inequality is due to congressional cuts. Federal spending today is not equally distributed. Wealthy school districts tend to spend more on students, simply because the school has a larger budget. As mentioned before, poverty and poorer areas tend to be more populated with African Americans, therefore there is racial inequality present in the area of school funding. Although there is still some inequality present in the U.S., the country has made great leaps forward in civil rights. This includes the removal of the Jim Crow laws in the South and Anti-Hate laws being in place to prevent racism today. Although the Civil Rights movement achieved a lot for African Americans, it continues on as the fight for the end of police brutality is in the nation’s spotlight right now.

All in all, it is apparent that racism is not something that exists naturally but rather something that occurs deep within the mind. Opinions and perspectives on racism are contributed by surrounding peers and environments. Although racism is still around today, the human race continues to make strides forward to evolve into one being, rather than separate entities. The end of racism can occur, but only if thoughts about race, like the “race question,” stop plaguing the human mind.

About Cooper Smith 214 Articles

Cooper Smith is in his junior year at Voorheesville. He enjoys writing about things he is passionate about, and also an avid sports fan. He plays basketball year round, and challenges himself in the classroom. Overall he is a very motivated individual and looking to improve himself and the world everyday.