Earlier today, while making a deposit in the bank we have onsite at the Embassy, I noticed the bank teller was reading a book. She set it aside as she handled my transaction but I caught a glimpse of the title: Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca. Basically, it was the Spanish version of Richard Wright and the Library Card. It was a book written by William Miller in the late 90s that told the story of famed author Richard Wright’s plight of accessing books in the 1920s segregated South. I was pretty shocked to see that book in Spanish version and even more shocked to see that the teller was reading it. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about Richard Wright and that brings me to this week’s Black History subject in the Flashback Friday series—the last of the 2022 series: Richard Wright’s Native Son.
How I first came across this Black History subject? I first came across Wright’s novel as a sophomore in Ms. Harris’s African-American Literature class at Parker High. It was what we were reading to start the Spring 2001 semester.
What it meant to me then? As a 16-year-old, I found the novel fascinating. Part of it was the plot and the other part was Ms. Harris. Even though she was a total bitch for what she did amid the LaToya Watson controversy, which rightfully earned her my mother’s enmity, I actually enjoyed the enthusiasm she had for Native Son. I felt the story related to my life at the time. The way Bigger taunted Vera with the dead rat reminded me of the ways I taunted Jasmine when we were younger. His resentment at their living situation also related to me as I hated being a product of government housing at the time. The way the story evolved from him thwarting a planned robbery with his friends to his accidental slaying of Mary Dalton was a very unique plot twist. It was made all the more intriguing by Bigger’s internal feelings of not belonging in the world of the Daltons…a feeling I felt myself concerning what I was being exposed to in my first year at Domino’s Pizza.
What it means to me now? It’s been 21 years since I first read Native Son. It’s also been 21 years since I last read Native Son. I actually moved on from Ms. Harris’s class and Parker High before we finished the novel and I ended up reading it on my own in the Huffman High library during my lunch breaks. I only read it one time because I wasn’t comfortable with Bigger’s fate in the end…him being sentenced to death for the murder of Mary. But despite only reading it once, I came away with a life lesson that has served me well as I’ve evolved from teenager to seasoned adult: never show fear in the environment surrounding you. There have been many, many times I’ve felt uncomfortable and out of place in my environment but I’ve refused to turn into a rolly polly in those situations. Even though I’m sure I wouldn’t have ended up in a predicament as Bigger Thomas did, I couldn’t allow myself to show that I felt inferior to somebody.