Chapter 6 Summary

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Finding Dr. Bledsdoe in his office after services, the narrator anxiously stepped inside. The two rehashed the day’s events, and an uncompromising Bledsdoe told the narrator that his actions had endangered the school. As their argument escalated, Bledsdoe called the narrator a racial slur. The narrator was stunned and upset by the authority figure’s word choice—though the two of them were both Black, Bledsdoe had still invoked a racist term. The narrator, Bledsdoe continued, had needed only half an hour to ruin an institution that had taken half a century to build.

The narrator attempted to apologize and explained that Mr. Norton did not hold him responsible, but Bledsdoe deflected and told him he had tarnished the reputation of both the school and the race. Mr. Norton might not know that he wanted the narrator disciplined, he told him, but he did. As his tirade continued, he revealed that retaining his power was far more important to him than the success of the Black community as a whole. “You’re nobody,” he told the narrator, “You don’t exist—can’t you see that?”

Bledsdoe told the narrator he was going to be punished but that he was also going to help him. He was sending him north to New York for the summer, he explained, and he expected him to get a job in the city to earn next year’s tuition. He would write letters of reference to help him find work, he promised. The narrator, exhausted by this ordeal and disoriented by Bledsdoe’s volatility, agreed. Dr. Bledsdoe told him he had two days to pack his things.

Ruminating on his punishment, the narrator packed his things right away. The next morning, he arrived at Dr. Bledsdoe’s office and announced he’d like to leave early so he could start looking for work right away. Bledsdoe, appearing impressed by his initiative, gave him a stack of seven reference letters addressed to important-sounding men. Mr. Norton’s name, the narrator noticed, was not counted among them.

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