Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth

by Richard Wright

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What lesson did Richard's mother teach him about buying groceries in Black Boy?

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Richard’s mother teaches him through experience how to stand up for himself. She sends him out to buy groceries, but he is accosted by a gang of boys who beat him and steal his money. Upon returning home for refuge, Richard expects his mother to be sympathetic, or at least to shelter him. Instead, she demands that he get over his fear and return to the store. Her instructions to just ignore the boys backfires, and Richard is beaten and robbed a second time.

Now, his mother is determined to teach him to fight. She gives him more money and a stick. “Don’t you come into this house until you’ve gotten those groceries,” she warns Richard. He knows if he returns home empty-handed again, she will beat him. He also knows the boys are waiting for him. Richard decides that it is better to try to defend himself and perhaps have some control over what happens to him. He is “so full of fear that I could scarcely breathe,” but he faces the bullies. He fights them off with the stick, and even chases them home, turning the situation around and making them fear him.

Although Richard fights strictly out of “blind fear,” he learns the lesson his mother knows he needs to learn. He has to stand up for himself or he will never survive in life. After confronting the bullies, Richard gains some self-confidence. “That night I won the right to the streets of Memphis.”

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Richard's mother teaches him to stand on his own two feet. This is a very important life lesson in general, but especially for a young black boy in a rough neighborhood whose father has just walked out on him. Richard's mother knows that if her son is going to survive in such a harsh, scary world, he's got to man up. And as Richard no longer has any male authority figures around to guide him, his mom figures that what he really needs is a strong dose of tough love.

So when Richard returns home after getting beaten up and robbed while running his errands, his mom sends him right back out again, threatening to whip him if he comes back without groceries. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Richard has no choice but to stand and fight. And so he sends the neighborhood bullies packing, learning a valuable life lesson in the process.

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Richard’s mother taught him to stand up to bullies and fight for himself by sending him for groceries.

When Richard’s mother first told him he was to do the shopping from now on, he felt proud.  It made him feel grown up.  Yet on his first trip he was attacked by a gang of bullies who beat him up and took his money.  He ran back home, but his mother sent him out again.

That evening I told my mother what had happened, but she made no comment; she sat down at once, wrote another note, gave me more money, and sent me to the grocery again. (Part 1, Ch. 2, p. 16)

His mother would not let him back in the house, and told him she was going to teach him to stand up for himself.  Young Richard did learn to fend for himself.  He fought off the boys, and earned the right to the streets of Memphis.

While what his mother did might seem cruel and heartless, it was effective.  Young Richard had been scared at school, and was generally too timid to survive on the streets.  If he had not learned to fight back, he would have been relentlessly bullied, beaten, and harassed.  The reality of the situation is that his was a tough neighborhood, and his mother was trying to teach him to be self-sufficient and not weak.  Bullies target weakness, and she was trying to prevent him from being a target for the rest of his life.

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