Last Updated on August 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 620
It is up to us to challenge the right of any group who willfully and deliberately condemn a fellow group to a servile position. We must challenge the right of any people who see fit to segregate human beings solely on the grounds of pigmentation.
Karlie, living in Johannesburg for the first time, has never heard ideas such as these in the small town where he was raised. He struggles to even believe that he could be equal in any way to a white man, if this means he could eat in any restaurant of his choosing or that his children could attend a white school. He considers these ideas "dangerous" and resolves to think them over with great seriousness. As the speakers at the rally continue, Karlie notes how they behave as if "there were no differences of color among them." He begins to see himself as a human being and not a "colored man" because of the ideas of these speakers.
The last speaker was the white lady in the blue dress, who asked them to challenge any discriminatory laws or measures in their own way.
This becomes the basis of thought in Karlie's subsequent civil disobedience. But when he hears these words, Karlie really struggles with the motive behind this white woman's words. What could she possibly have to gain? After all, she could swim anywhere she wants and is beautiful. Through her words, Karlie begins to feel that he should, indeed, challenge the prejudices in the world around him.
Yet how in one's own way? How was one to challenge? Suddenly it dawned upon him. Here was his challenge. The bench. The railway bench with "Europeans Only" neatly painted in white. For one moment it symbolized all the misery of the plural South African society.
Karlie finds the representation of segregation in the bench that he isn't allowed to sit on in the railway station. There is nothing otherwise special about it except that it excludes his right to exist there. He reflects on the speaker who had previously called him to action and sits. As he does, he faces a fierce internal battle. There is a part of himself that believes that he isn't allowed to be there. He feels the "servile position he had occupied on the farm, of his father, and his father's father who were born black, lived like blacks, and died like mules." Segregation has been written into his entire life experience. However, he also feels a sense of victory in this challenge and ultimately believes that he dares to challenge what his father and father's father dared not face.
Get up! There are benches down there for you . . . Can't you hear me speaking to you? You black swine!
Eventually, the challenge to his presence comes. A man spews hate and racial slurs at Karlie, who is resolute in both his commitment to remaining on the bench and to not engaging in the verbal conflict. Instead, he chooses to peacefully sit in silence. The man presses him, and his verbal insults grow in intensity. Yet "Karlie sat and heard nothing . . . Under no condition was he going to get up." The police arrive and demand his name. Still, Karlie refuses to speak.
It was useless to fight any longer. Now it was his turn to smile. He had challenged and won. Who cared the rest?
Although he is forced to go with the police, Karlie feels victory in this civil disobedience. He no longer accepts the prejudices found all over South Africa and has challenged this where he could, just as the speaker urged him to do. He dares to make a difference in his society and clings to this as success.
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