The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas

by Reginald McKnight

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Why does Clint's view of Ah So change by the story's end?

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The short story "The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas" by Reginald McKnight is narrated by a 12-year-old African American boy named Clint. Clint goes to a school with mostly white students. The black students are divided up evenly into classrooms, and in Clint's classroom, there are 30 white kids and three black kids. The teacher is openly racist, telling nasty so-called jokes that demean African Americans. Many of the students are racist as well. Because that's the atmosphere at the school, they get away with it.

At the beginning of the story, Clint describes the behavior that the black students manifest when they are in class. A big black student named Marvin polishes a patch of his skin with spit and then falls asleep. A large, heavy girl nicknamed Ah-So reads well but refuses to answer questions. She sits quietly and sullenly, and it is Clint's impression that she has given up and is biding her time until she no longer legally needs to attend school. He feels she is closed, guarded, and watchful.

The behaviors that Marvin and Ah-so exhibit are survival mechanisms to be able to endure the racist environment at school. In different ways they shut themselves off to make the hostility around them easier to endure. Clint's attempt to cope with his surroundings is the most complex. Instead of closing himself off, he tries to fit in and do the best he can. This arouses the ire of the school bully, Oakley.

By the end of the story, the survival mechanisms of each of the three African American children break down to some extent. In Clint's case, he tries to reason with Oakley. He wants to know why Oakley wants to beat him up, but Oakley has no excuse; he is simply a bully. At home Clint tries to come to an intellectual understanding, but that doesn't work either. Finally, during a confrontation, he tells Oakley to call him the N-word, possibly so he could work up the motivation to fight back.

Marvin then lets down his guard and demonstrates why he usually acts so sleepy. It's because inside he is full of rage and violence, which he lets loose as he pummels Oakley.

In the final paragraph, readers learn why Ah-so normally behaves so passively. It is because she has a genuinely sweet spirit. If she manifests her kindness at that racist school, she knows that she will be targeted for retaliation, so she keeps it inside. To reassure Clint, she opens up just for a moment and lets Clint see her sweetness and concern. That's why Clint changes his mind about her. He can see that she is a different, better person on the inside.

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