Racism in Literature

In my last post, I talked about the many things that I wanted to figure out while reading Percival Everett’s novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. As I read the feedback from Beth, she told me that some of what I was writing about “screamed” Everett’s “Signing to the Blind”. As soon as I read those words, I re-read the essay. The line that stuck out to me most was when Everett was talking about the purpose of some of the old television shows such as “All in the Family”, “The Jeffersons”,  and “Maude” and he stated that the “objective was the exploitation of the division between liberal and conservative, black and white” (Everett 9). 

This sentence got me to thinking about the treatment of the main protagonist, Not Sidney Poitier.  Not Sidney is African-American and because he moved to the South, Atlanta specifically, the people around him sometimes treated him as if he was not as equal; just because of his skin color. As I continue to read through this novel there are different situations that stand out to me in which Not Sidney is exposed because of his skin. For example, when Not Sidney was meeting his girlfriend’s parents, he overheard them talking about him through a heating vent. The first thing he heard Maggie’s mom say was, “He’s just so dark, Ward” and after her husband asked how dark he was, she replied with “black” (Everett 131). My initial thought after reading those words was that it was racist. What makes it racist? For me, I believe what Maggie’s mom said was offensive to Not Sidney because she was acting like it was a problem that Not Sidney had dark skin. 

In The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, written by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, under the definition of “race”, they explain that “literature is among the most powerful forms of discourse in which race is constructed and racial or racist attitudes are expressed and perpetuated. Readers also bring their own racial and racist attitudes to any work…” (365). In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney is constantly being singled out because of his skin color. As I read this novel, I continue to think about how this happens in real life. “This” refers to the many circumstances in which Not Sidney is attacked because of his skin color. Not only do Maggie’s parents not approve of him, but in the beginning of the novel, Not Sidney was arrested just because of what he looked like. Because he is African-American. 

 After reading the definition of “race” in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, and Percival Everett’s, “Signing to the Blind”, the point that sticks out to me most is that in many different novels, including I am Not Sidney Poitier, race and racism will naturally always be a part of literature. Throughout the years, I have read many books and novels in which there was somehow a connection to race and/or racism. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines are two examples of books where the focus for the reader is racism. To sum these up, in both of these novels there was a murder in a Southern town and the blame was put on an African-American because of their skin color. As a reader, we make judgments when it comes to books like these. As I read I am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett, I have my own opinions about the words spoken in regards to Not Sidney’s race. Readers interpret everything they read differently, and racism is only part of it.

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