In America, one likes to think that it is truly the land of equal opportunity for all, but that just is not true. Throughout American history, there is clearly visible racism that is put in place to keep a certain race down. Percival Everett is a black author, and his books usually will have a theme of race. In his novel; I am Not Sidney Poitier, Everett writes about both the secret racism, and the reality of equal opportunity.
In January of 1863, the emancipation proclamation was signed, marking the end of slavery in the united states. For over one hundred years after that, racism and segregation were a major theme in America. People of color would not be allowed to use the same facilities as white people, and society made sure whites remained superior to any other race. In 1896, this was even implemented within America’s constitution. In the famous case of Plessy v Ferguson, the supreme court ruled that segregation did not go against the fourteenth amendment, because as long as the sperate facilities that people of color had to use were considered equal to the ones of whites only, it is still equal rights to all citizens. From this case arose the separate but equal doctrine, legally allowing segregation. After this, it was not until 1964 when the civil rights act was signed, that segregation was outlawed. Even after that, the racism did not stop. Jim Crow laws were put in place to stop people of color from voting. There would be things like literacy tests and grandfather clauses, meaning if you cannot read, and if your grandfather did not vote, you can not vote either. Because segregation meant that black people had worse education, and their grandparents were slaves, these two laws alone kept the black vote to a minimum. Finally, in 1968, the fair housing act was passed, giving black people the right to vote, and the right of equal opportunity in employment and residency. After this, America had equality for all, on paper.
Everett’s novel was published in 2009. At this point, 40 years have passed since the official end of the civil rights movement, so America should have gotten rid of racism, right? Wrong. There are still remnants of racism flowing through America, specifically in the south. Percival Everett notices this and decides to give it representation in his book. In chapter two, Not Sidney decides he reached the point in his life where he must go out on his own, explore the country, and start a new life. As he leaves Atlanta and continues through Georgia, he gets stopped by a police officer and arrested. When he asked why he is being detained, the officer tells him it is because he is black, although he says it in a much more vulgar way (Everett, 48). While being transported around in the prison bus, teenagers would drive alongside them and yell vulgar things, like “darkie” and “slave” at him (Everett, 52). On top of that, when the prison bus crashes and Not Sidney tries to escape, he is shackled to a racist man who is verbally abusing him throughout their whole escape. When he makes it back home from this horrible experience, he decides he wants to go to college.
Equal opportunity is supposed to be one of America’s main attractions. In the lake 1800’s and early 1900’s, many people immigrated to America from Europe because anybody can make money in America, it is the land of opportunities. Nowadays, it is not so. In order to get a decent paying job, one needs a college degree. Without going to college, it would be very difficult to get a job, much less earn enough to make a living. Another way opportunity is not equal is due to money. A person from a wealthy family can pay their way into a program, event, or position, while someone from a poorer family is unable to do so. Everett puts this into his novel as well. Not Sidney says, “Ms. Feet, I am a high school dropout. I want to go to college, and I’m willing to buy my way in” (Everett, 83). Although Not Sidney never finished high school, because he has a fortune, he is able to pay a lot of money to steal an opportunity like college. Not Sidney does get in, and it is Morehead’s all black college.
While pursuing his higher education, Not Sidney finds himself a girlfriend, Maggie Larkin. She invites him over her house to meet her parents for thanksgiving, and Not Sidney agrees to go. Even though Maggie is a black girl, and so are her parents, Everett still finds a way to make them act racist toward Not Sidney. Not Sidney is described as having a dark completion, while Maggie and her family are lighter skinned. This turns into another issue of race. While in the house’s guest room, Not Sidney can hear the conversations that Maggie’s parents are having. They are discussing how dark Not Sidney is. They are mostly discussing his strange name, as they are trying to figure out who he is, but they keep mentioning how dark he is. Later, Not Sidney hears them talking again, and this time they know he is rich. They talk about how he should stay with their daughter because he is rich, but, “He’s so black…our little girl. She’s so fair” (Everett, 145). Although the Larkin family is also black, Not Sidney is dark, and the only reason they let him date their daughter is because he is rich.
Percival Everett thoroughly explores racism in his novel. He starts with regular racism, then gradually moves to deeper, more complex racism. Obviously, Everett puts this theme in his story because he is a person of color as well, and he wants people who are not of color to understand what they go through in an average life. Racism is still hidden in America, and through this novel, Everett draws on the truth of it to show his readers how the world is.