What form of microaggression is most evident in Black Boy and can you give an example?

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lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Microaggression Project website defines racial microaggressions as

“brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”

The authors of the website extend this intial definition to include also slights and insults directed against social difference in general, encompassing the categories of gender, class, education, religion and sexuality in addition to race. In Black Boy Richard is the victim of racial microaggressions which become as dangerous as more overt forms of violence as they cause "a dread of white people" to "come to live permanently in [his] feelings and imagination". These microaggression do not come simply from whites but also from members of his own family. For example, in chapter two, it is his mother who has to explain him segregation on public transport and, when Richard demands to know more about race and and about who he is, his mother cuts short by saying "They'll call you a coloured man when you grow up". Richard feels that his own mother is not telling him the whole truth and resents it. In addition, members of his own family are aggressive against Richard on religious grounds (see chapter 4).

In Chapter 12, the character of Shorty shows how black men internalized racial insults and slurs and used them as a form of minstrelsy or to amuse whites. Described as "hard-headed, sensible, a reader of magazines and books,  . . . proud of his race", Shorty "would play the role of a clown of the most debased and degraded type" in the presence of whites. In the following pages Shorty is seen insulting himself in front of a white man and even allowing him to kick him to get a quarter. In the same chapter, Richard and Harrison, a fellow "black boy", discover the plot of the foreman Mr Olin to put one agaist the other and provoke a violent fight. This makes Richard conclude that "to white men we're like dogs or cocks". Yet, this is what they become when, trying to cheat the whites who have offered five dollars to the winner of the fight between the two of them, they really find themselves fighting aggressively against each other. Chapter 13 shows Richard's successful efforts at the library to get books for his education, a success that is based on the librarian's conviction that as a black boy he should be unable to read and thus use those books himself.

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