Black Americans often reflect upon the significant leaders devoted to addressing racial inequality. But there is one leader whose notable achievements are not as widely celebrated. Richard Wright, born in 1908, experienced the harsh realities of racial injustice growing up in the Jim Crow south. Unlike other black historical figures, he wrote novels and other works pertaining to the challenges black people faced, which illuminated the racial inequalities pertaining to them.
Whether fiction or non-fiction, Wright's writings reflected upon the realities black people endured during early- and mid-20th century America. For example, in "Native Son," Wright presents a fictional account of a young black man, Bigger Thomas, who while living in Chicago, must still endure the harsh misconceptions of black people in America, especially when associating with white people. The book also presents a narrative insight to the impoverished living conditions of blacks, even in northern cities. As not only did blacks endure substandard housing conditions, they also couldn’t find good jobs to provide for themselves. Wright’s narrative demonstrates the devastations of racial and economic inequality, and how it leads to violence and distrust towards the rest of society.
In his memoir, "Black Boy," Wright reflects on his childhood upbringing, where he was told by his mother that society would always perceive him as a black boy, even as an adult. Wright was astonished by this reality, and he remained content in questioning society, particularly regarding racial injustice.
Wright likely would have been delighted to witness particular historical events, such as the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s, as well as seeing Barack Obama become the 44th U.S. president. It is without question that the United States has made strides to promote an equal society, however, inequalities remain. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, it was indicated that blacks still trail whites in completion of both high school and college. The study also showed the prevalent income inequality among blacks and whites, as whites have higher income levels and lower unemployment and poverty rates.
Additional studies have also shown inequality among blacks and whites. For example, Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan published a research article titled: "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakeisha and Jamal?" The study conducted a mock application to newspaper job postings in both Chicago and Boston, and found that college-educated applicants with a white-sounding name received 30 percent more calls for interviews than college educated applicants with black sounding names. As the value of having a higher education continues to rise, there are still concerning statistics that indicate inequalities among blacks.
Having begun to realize the existent racial inequalities within contemporary society, lawmakers have pushed for change. For example, Obama pardoned many non-violent drug offenders, as well as revised federal enforcement of drug laws (primarily marijuana). America’s War on Drugs has implications that present racial inequality in plain black and white. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 80 percent of those serving federal sentences for drug charges are black, while 60 percent are Hispanic — even though blacks, whites and Latinos use drugs at comparable rates.
Also, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has introduced legislation that would not only de-criminalize marijuana at the federal level, but address other aspects brought upon by the War on Drugs. For example, the bill includes a community reinvestment fund to provide job training and health awareness programs, among other community services.
Wright addressed racial inequality through his writing. Today, NFL players address racial inequality by taking a knee during the national anthem. If American society stands by the virtue of justice for all, then we should seek to resolve these prevalent racial inequalities. Could addressing the War on Drugs be a considerable beginning point?
Richard Kemp holds a MPA degree from Cal State University Bakersfield. The views expressed are his own.