Richard Wright

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Who is the audience and subject in the given passage? What is the meaning behind "you usually take us for granted and think you know us" and "our history is far stranger than you suspect"?

Each day when you see us black folk upon the dusty land of the farms or upon the hard pavement of the city streets, you usually take us for granted and think you know us, but our history is far stranger than you suspect, and we are not what we seem.

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This excerpt is from 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States, a collaboration between Richard Wright and Edwin Rosskam to produce an volume combining Wright's commentary with photographs from the Farm Security Administration archives of historical photographs of African-American people, many of which had been taken by Rosskam and his wife Louise. The volume was published in 1941 as the United States was just beginning to recover from the Great Depression and entering into World War II. At this point, racial segregation still was enshrined in law and many older blacks had still been alive during the Civil War; Wright's own grandparents had been slaves.

The passage is narrated in the first person plural, with the words "we" and "us" used to refer collectively to black people, including Wright himself. The passage addresses the reader in the second person as "you" and seems to presume that most readers of the book are white people. The subject of the book is black people, especially the rural poor.

The passage emphasizes that white people really don't understand the lives of black people, think that when they see blacks walking down the street that they know blacks and share common humanity and history with them, without understanding the particularity of the black experience. Wright is particularly eloquent in the way he gives a sense of how a history of racial oppression has made blacks live a hidden life, beneath the surface of white society. 

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