Chapter 18: "We're The Only Colored People Here"
In this vignette, Maud Martha and her husband, Paul, go to the World Playhouse (a theater). There, they find that they are the only African Americans in attendance. Maud worries about the impression they exude. Paul is also uncomfortable, but the two begin to revel in their experience once the movie begins.
The couple's experience exposes the prejudices that permeate their society. For example, Maud Martha attracts curious glances from white women at the World Playhouse. They assume that Maud Martha's long hair is what attracted the light-skinned Paul to her. Beauty, and by extension, the scope of attraction, is defined by entrenched preconceptions.
The name of the theater is also ironic: while it suggests inclusivity, the reality is far different. At the end of the movie, Maud nurses regret that she can never indulge in casual conversations with the white patrons. Inclusiveness, as the theater's name and its movie offerings suggest, is nothing more than an illusion.
Chapter 25: "The Self Solace"
In this vignette, Maud Martha is at the beautician. During her time there, the owner (Sonia Johnson) purchases a set of lipsticks from a white saleswoman (Miss Ingram). The name of the lipstick is Black Beauty. It is geared toward women with darker complexions. The name and shade of the lipstick stereotype African American women, failing to account for the wide diversity in skin tone within the population itself.
During her exchange with Sonia, Miss Ingram uses a racial epithet. Maud Martha is initially upset, but since Sonia does not challenge Miss Ingram, Maud decides that she must have misheard. After Miss Ingram leaves, Sonia confirms that Maud Martha's ears did not deceive her. However, Sonia makes excuses for Miss Ingram's thoughtless language, perhaps as a way to rationalize her fear of confrontation.
The exchange between Sonia and Miss Ingram highlights the explosive implications of a racial epithet. Sonia is obviously flustered but fearful of appearing contentious. Her rationalizations are a form of self-solace for the pain Miss Ingram has inflicted on her. Racism was so entrenched in Brooks' 1930s era that few Caucasians questioned the implications of their speech.
Chapter 29: "Millinery"
In this chapter, Maud Martha is at the hat shop. She indicates interest in a hat, only to discover that it costs more than she is willing to pay. The white saleswoman treats Maud with barely concealed disdain. Through indirect characterization (Brooks makes us privy to the saleswoman's thoughts), the former's cruel and vindictive nature is exposed.
The saleswoman laments that her own daughter is dating a Greek man ("revolting" enough, but at least fashionable for their time, she thinks). When it comes to Maud Martha's "kinky" hair, the saleswoman exceeds her previous callousness. She dislikes the fact that "concoctions of smelly (hair) grease" leave a lingering smell after African-American customers try on hats. Here, beauty is shown to be confined to a narrow, exclusive standard. "Kinky" hair is portrayed as unnatural, ugly, and worthy of contempt. Maud Martha's insecurity is thus a direct result of such widely-held misconceptions.