The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas

by Reginald McKnight

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Last Updated February 26, 2024.

"The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas" by Reginald McKnight is a short story about a twelve-year-old Black student named Clinton and his encounters with racism and prejudice while attending a public school in 1960s Texas. It explores social norms from a not-so-distant past and delivers a powerful message about challenging stereotypes and promoting equality, which remains relevant today.

The story begins by introducing Clint, who goes to a class mostly made up of white kids. He expresses his disdain for Marvin Pruitt, one of the three black kids in class, whom he describes as messy, "hostile," and "close-mouthed."

Clint dislikes how Marvin constantly spits on his arm and sleeps in class; he does his best not to be associated with Marvin. He describes feeling a sense of shame and discomfort about his own race in relation to Marvin's behavior, highlighting his internalized racism and the pressure to distance himself from negative stereotypes.

Ah-so, the other Black student, is a heavy-set, stoic, and silent girl who refuses to engage with the teacher's questions or interact with her classmates. While Clint acknowledges Ah-so's intelligence and strength of character, he also feels similarly detached from her, confused by her refusal to speak.

Mrs. Wickham, the teacher, is depicted as subtly prejudiced, favoring her white students and making racially charged jokes that target her Black students. Despite her attempts to assert authority and control over the classroom, Clint navigates her biases with a combination of compliance and defiance, striving to prove himself as different from her negative perceptions of Black students.

Oakley (nicknamed "Oak Tree"), a sixteen-year-old white student known for his size and physical aggression, often bullies other students, especially those who are not white. Eventually, he targets Clint, who initially avoids confrontation, pretending not to hear his threats and insults.

However, during a game of murderball in gym class, Clint unexpectedly gains the upper hand and accidentally injures Oakley, causing him to bleed profusely from the nose. As a result, Oakley is taken to the office, and Clint feels a mix of guilt and apprehension about the consequences of his actions. Later, in the locker room, other students warn Clint that Oakley will seek revenge and encourage him to fight back, despite his reluctance and lack of animosity towards Oakley.

As expected, Oakley threatens Clint shortly after recovering from his injuries. Clint tries to talk things out with him, but Oakley insists on a fight. As Clint accepts his fate and prepares for the showdown with Oakley, he reflects on his relationship with his parents.

His mother seems distant and uninterested; she rarely has meaningful conversations with her son. As such, Clint prefers spending time with his father, but his dad is in Vietnam, where his uncle AJ recently died. Clint struggles with immaturity as he tries to be masculine in his father's absence. However, his efforts to fill his father's shoes lead to even less communication with his mother.

The next day, Oakley physically attacks Clinton. Before Oakley can continue, Marvin intervenes and beats Oakley. Marvin's actions profoundly impact Clint, who ponders why Marvin helped him and stares at him with "cool eyes." The next morning, Clint notices the classroom feels empty without Oakley and Marvin, yet wonders why he still senses their presence.

The story concludes with Clint observing Ah-so, seeing beyond her race, and noticing her "gentle-looking face" and "pretty smile." His changed perception of Marvin and Ah-so suggests that Clint is starting to comprehend the negativity associated with his own pride and prejudice.

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