The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas

by Reginald McKnight

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Last Updated February 26, 2024.

Racism and Discrimination

Racism and discrimination are prominent themes in "The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas," shaping the experiences and interactions of the characters. The story vividly portrays the racial tensions and injustices prevalent in the 1960s, reflecting the broader social realities of the time.

One aspect of racism and discrimination depicted in the story is the overt hostility and violence directed toward individuals based on their race. Oakley, for example, embodies this hostility, targeting Clint and other Black kids with racial slurs and physical aggression solely because of their skin color. Oakley’s actions reflect a deeply ingrained prejudice and bigotry that fuel his antagonism toward Black Americans.

Clint harbors a strong dislike for people like himself, as he sees his race as a disadvantage that he must rise above to fit into white America. He views Marvin, for instance, as someone who brings him shame because he believes Marvin fits negative stereotypes about Black people.

I never liked Marvin Pruitt...He embarrassed me. He smelled bad, was at least two grades behind, was hostile, dark skinned, homely, close-mouthed. I feared him for his size, pitied him for his dress, watched him all the time.

Clint's experiences and his desire to fit in with his white friends also show how racial harassment and violence can damage one's mind, showing just how harmful racism can be to a person's mental health.

Moreover, the story illustrates how systemic racism operates within institutions, such as the school. Despite Clint's attempts to resolve conflicts peacefully, the school authorities often turn a blind eye to Oakley's behavior, implicitly condoning his actions and enabling him and others like him to continue their abusive behavior. Mrs. Wickham also frequently tells racist jokes and treats the black students as inferior to the white students.

She would prove her dislike day after day with little stories and jokes. "...Now, where do you go when you injure your knee?" ..."Why, to Africa, "Wickham would say, "where the knee grows." The thirty-odd white kids would laugh.

Overall, "The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas" delves into the multifaceted nature of racism and discrimination, showcasing its destructive consequences for both individuals and communities. McKnight offers a poignant commentary on the enduring legacy of racial prejudice and the ongoing struggle for racial equality.

Identity and Self-Discovery

The theme of identity in "The Kind of Light that Shines on Texas" encompasses the complex process of self-discovery and the struggle to define oneself amidst societal pressures. Throughout the story, Clint struggles with his racial identity in a primarily white community in Waco, Texas, during a time when racial injustice and bigotry were widespread.

He notices how Black people are treated poorly and wants to avoid the stereotypes linked to being Black, thinking it will make people like him more. But he realizes that prejudiced people like Oakley will always judge him by his skin color, no matter what. As such, he realizes it is crucial to accept himself and that he should not change to fit in but should instead stand up against unfair treatment.

Influenced by his father's military background and the violence he faces at school, Clint wrestles with what it means to be a man in society. The story explores how ideas of strength and courage relate to race and social status.

Despite claiming self-acceptance, Clint struggles to embrace his true self and accept care from his mother and sister. He believes he must act as the "man of the house" in his father's absence but eventually learns to recognize his mother's competence and support.

I loved, feared, and respected...

(This entire section contains 843 words.)

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myself, my manhood. ...And it wasn’t till about three months later than I discovered I really wasn’t the man of the house, that my mother and sister, as they always had, were taking care of me.

A significant moment in Clint’s journey of self-discovery is when he realizes that people are fundamentally the same. He recalls a lesson from Mrs. Wickham about how prisms work, bending white and black light differently.

This leads him to consider the possibility of a light that shows everyone as equal, even despite the apparent differences. The light in Texas seems pretty simple, just black and white. But to Clint, the light represents something more; it is a symbol of coexistence and unity that helps him decode his internal biases and imagine the world as he wishes it to be.

The colors we see, she said, look like they do only because of the light or ray that shines on them. Then she shut out the lights and shone a white light lamp on a prism. ...I didn’t really understand then. But as I stood at the window, gazing at my orange skin, I wondered what kind of light I could shine on Marvin, Oakley, and me that would reveal us as the same.

Through Clint, McKnight implies that instead of criticizing these differences, we should recognize and celebrate them, understanding that we all belong to the same race—the human race.

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