De/Constructing White Supremacy: Contending Antipodal Politics in Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940)
Arguably, fear, anger and despair dominate the poor, uneducated, twenty-year-old Bigger Thomas’s daily existence in Richard Wright’s Native Son. Nevertheless, old lies of white supremacy that have held black people in perpetual turmoil are crushed through violent reaction when Bigger strikes at white hegemony through the killing of Mary Dalton. This backlash throws the white community into panic mode. Apparently, African Americans’ increased susceptibility to the inferiority complex of the 1930s was dictated by the dubious racial stratification that allotted a place of superiority to the white race over the black race, which was considered inferior. This misconception was supported by Arthur de Gobineau’s The Inequality of Human Races ( 1915) and Lucien Levy-Bruhl’s How Natives Think (1926). Bigger’s humanity, like that of other African-American youth of this period, is overwhelmed by the racial prejudices of the supremacist whites which demand that they must be meek, submissive and self-debased. As summed up at the trial of Bigger, American society gives black people no options in life and essentially denies them the basic rights of all humans to fulfil their destiny in relationship to the measure of their intelligence and talents. These denials have led to anger, shame and fear which have snowballed into crime and murder. We may, without difficulty, agree that Wright’s portrayal of the killing of Mary is not in any way designed to make Bigger a hero of the black protest against racial marginality. Rather, Bigger is created to accentuate the effects of suffocating social conditions that could turn an individual into an American “native son” raised in an atmosphere of transcendental hopelessness and weaned on the diet of violence, hatred and viciousness which provided the immediate platform for the launching of a backlash against American racism. Using the foregoing as its standpoint, this article examines white/black antipodes and race tensions in Richard Wright’s Native Son. It employs the Freudian conceptual construct of the human psyche, divided into the id, ego and superego, as a theoretical framework. A parallel of the hypothesis is conceived to expound the white/black taxonomy in race discourse. In Freudian psychology, the id is irrational and it projects pleasure principles. The ego is, however, rational and mature, while the superego mediates between the id and the ego. These paradigms are used to explore the collective psyche of race theorists in the paper.