I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York yet when reading “Moon and the Mars” by Kia Corthron, there was so much history and major events going on in 1857 in New York City that I was completely unaware of. One of the main things I was shocked yet very intrigued to learn was the history of Seneca Village. I never knew that the area I so fondly know now as Central Park was once the home to many Black Americans before the Civil War. It is astonishing to think that there was once such a vibrant community of culture that existed there. The same goes for Five Points. Before reading “Moon and the Mars”, I never knew about the culture and the history that existed there. Five Points, although “mostly Irish”, was an intersection of many different unique communities that came together to form such a dynamic neighborhood, the neighborhood that made Theo who she was (Corthron 33). My lack of awareness of Five Points and Seneca Village is perhaps due to the fact that both of these places no longer exist in New York, but I found it so interesting to see how such an impactful community filled with history and culture was swept under the rug, especially for New Yorkers. I also found it shocking to see that at the time the novel is set, Harlem was described as a “White” town and the home of the “nativists” (Corthron 77, 85). Harlem is now a city filled with Black history and is renowned for its contributions to the Harlem Renaissance and African American culture. I had another similar reaction when reading Auntie Eunice’s letter to her husband Ambrose where she described the area of her new apartment in Greenwich Village as “little Africa” and “coon-town” (Corthron 111). Greenwich Village now is predominantly White. Reading “Moon and the Mars” highlighted for me the transformation of many of New York’s cities and communities over the years. The demographics of many cities and areas as I know them today are starkly different. The area of New York City that Theo grew up in, which was once filled with immigrants, is now predominantly white. 

Theo is the product of Black and Irish heritage. Her Irish side embodies Irish heritage, maintains their Irish accents and culture, discusses their connections to their homeland, and so much more. Theo’s Black side of her family also often maintains their culture despite the struggles of the immigrant experience that they face. They celebrate things like Pinkster and continue to practice the A.M.E. religion. Now, many of those immigrant communities have moved to areas like Brooklyn, where I am from. Today, Brooklyn is the center for the immigrant experience mixed with Caribbean, African, Asian, Jewish, Italian, Irish, and Black cultures. While these communities are bolstering with authenticity, culture, history, and so much more, similar to what goes on with Seneca Falls and Five Points in the novel, the areas I call home are also being subject to gentrification. Every time I go back home whether that be for Winter Break or for the Summer, I am shocked to see how much my community has changed. Many of the places and small towns that clearly exhibited Brooklyn’s diversity and culture of the immigrant experience are now taken over by White communities. The Caribbean markets have now become apartment buildings for many newcomers moving to New York for the city experience. Many Black people, other people of color, and marginalized communities are being pushed out of their homes much like how Auntie Eunice and Mr. O’Kelleher are forced to leave their homes behind in Seneca Falls. In that regard, I was able to resonate with Auntie Eunice when she communicated her sadness in having to move her home. Seeing how much my hometown changes due to wealthier white people taking over makes me wonder how much my community will change in the next 20 years.

Identity through ‘Fate’

Throughout book three of Native Son, all I could think about was identity. So often in the world, identity is found through other people. In this story, we see Bigger identified through a white lens. Bigger was called a ‘Negro Rapist’, ‘jungle beast’, and a ‘grinning southern darky’. Throughout Native Son, we have seen Bigger be labeled as something that is bad by not just others, but himself as well. The news, which is run by white people, is using their voice to dehumanize Bigger, as well as the rest of the black community. Warning them that they are not meant to be there, with all of their ‘freedom’.

In today’s society, black people are still identified by others. The news tends to cast a shadow of doubt over black people no matter the reason they are on. During the peak of the BLM movement, I can recall when there would be a black person who passed away or did something good for the community and a mug shot would be shown instead of a normal photo of them. This is a real and current example of how black people can be portrayed for not themselves, but the community as a whole. In 2014 there was a song released called Don’t Shoot by The Game and featuring many other black artists. The song came out directly after the Trayvon and Mike Brown shooting. There is a lyric that describes the situation that happens in not only Native Son but also in the real world. The lyric reads ‘News say we’re looting, paint pictures like we some animals’. This was undoubtedly true. During the BLM movements, protests, and demonstrations, the news would show the bad parts of those events, not the peaceful aspect.

The point I am trying to make is the importance of how we view ourselves. From the time we are born, people put identities on each other. Be it girl or boy, or by race, people will always put a label on something to make their understanding of things simple and easy. That being said, I believe that this is all tying back to how Bigger’s mother told him she never wanted to have him. Since childhood, he has had the identity in his head of being useless and unwanted. So, in a way, I do wonder if his committing such an awful crime was simply due to an underlying cause of wanting attention.

Agency and Fate: Native Son

Book three of Wright’s Native Son is incredibly conflicting as Wright seems to change course from the first two books of the novel and attempts to humanize Bigger Thomas. Wright mainly does so by finally having Bigger give voice to his feelings at the end of the book as well as an extensive argument from Max on Bigger’s behalf. However, the most conflicting aspect of Native Son for me has been the concept of agency. Wright makes the point that Bigger was destined, hence the title Fate, by his environment and the nature of oppression in America to be imprisoned at least if not killed. Max puts the concept succinctly in saying, “We allowed Bigger Thomas nothing. He sought another life and accidentally found one” (398). Wright continually presents the reader with the assertion that the only means of agency for Bigger is murder. “[Bigger] accepted it because it made him free, gave him the possibility of choice, of action, the opportunity to act” (396). Bigger, along with the rest of the Black community, is fatefully driven towards violence. I do not agree with this assertion because the preponderance of fate cedes agency which is already limited by society. 

Wright paints an incredibly pessimistic picture of blackness, one that is dictated by oppression and violence. By no means do I contradict the weight of oppression and systemic hatred and racism, nor do I contradict the effect those have had on Black agency. Clearly, opportunity and agency in America is incredibly different, and continues to favor White people. It continues to disadvantage Black people, from redlining to voter suppression. But agency and blackness are not confined to violence, as Wright seems to argue in Native Son

I was listening to a group of rappers I follow closely (Coast Contra) and one of their pieces touched on pride in themselves, particularly the line “Stop, breathe, give and receive / Nowadays in mind, I stay align, I wake and meditate for space / Been taking time to make these rhymes in hope they elevate all our thoughts / Stop, breathe, give and receive” (Breathe and Stop Freestyle, 4:20 – 4:30). Ras Austin delves deeper into similar feelings of pressure, fear, and confusion later in the verse but still chooses to emphasize the pride in himself and his group for who they are and what they have done. As Black artists, this is a stark contrast to Wright’s depiction of blackness via Bigger Thomas. So while I think Wright excellently points out how systemic oppression and alienation make people feel, I disagree with Wright’s assertion that agency is accessible only through violence. 

Communicating Humanity Through Color

I found the contrast between the colorful excerpts that describe the Dursley family and the rather reductive and simple descriptions of Cho Chang and Dean Thomas from the Harry Potter series to be quite eye-opening. This discussion regarding the use of color in writing left me wanting to further explore the racialization of language. How do we invoke race in writing and speaking? What are the consequences of the use of words like “black” on the people whom they describe and the English language itself? 

I found Richard Wright’s Native Son provides the perfect medium for exploring these questions. Throughout the book, Wright uses colors in multiple ways to describe race, physicality, and personality. For example, frustrated by Gus’ hesitancy to rob Blum’s store, Bigger calls his friend a “yellow black bastard” (28). Here, “yellow” is a derogatory reference to Gus’ lighter skin and his cowardice. This moment demonstrates the multiple meanings invoked by color. Beyond the use of color to denote physical appearance and character, Wright shows how racialized language links color to the notion of humanity. One way in which he accomplishes this is by bringing to the forefront our understanding of the word “black” not only to describe racial identity and skin color but also arouse many of the negative connotations and stereotypes associated with blackness, and, by extension, the race itself. Bessie describes Bigger as “plain black trouble” and herself as a “blind dumb black drunk fool” (230). She seems to have internalized the belief that her and Bigger’s blackness, and arguably the entire race to which they belong, is inextricably connected to these other disparaging adjectives. At the time of the trial, the Chicago Tribune notes that “though the Negro killer’s body does not seem compactly built… his skin is exceedingly black” (279). The paper suggests that despite the fact that Bigger lacks other features that might mark him as a criminal, his blackness is incriminatory enough. 

I argue that, through the use of racialized language, white people are afforded the complexity inherent to the use of multiple colors when describing them while nonwhites are reduced to nothing more than the single color of their skin. I am afraid that this is not a problem unique to writing– in our colloquial language, we too become authors who reinforce the normativity of whiteness when we refer to a white friend as “green-eyed brunette” while our nonwhite friend becomes “the tall Black girl.” It is hard to ignore the tragic irony that arises from this conclusion: whiteness, though defined as the absence of color, is often described the most colorfully, reinforcing the humanity of white people and denigrating that in blackness.

False Fate

 The title of this particular book in the novel pervaded the back of my mind the entire time whilst reading its events. Every single aspect seems to be blamed on some sort of unflinching fate as a scapegoat. The authorities claim that the spectacle and handling of Bigger’s trial is completely justified and therefore fated, but it is clear that it is inciting unnecessary violence and further divides both the sides of the oppressor and the oppressed. They seek to make an example out of Bigger, solidifying his portrayal and therefore deciding his fate for him. Bigger himself also believes his actions to be completely fated as consequences of the sheer lack of control, autonomy, and individuality he has suffered from his entire life. Bigger genuinely believes he is a product of his unfair environment, a victim of the emasculations and prejudices he has always experienced. I agree that Bigger lacks control in his life while those in charge of his case yield it over him against his favor, but I also disagree that an omnipotent fate has all of these terrible events planned out, excusing anyone from being truly at fault. Hypocrisy and denial is present on all fronts. Even though he says so to save Bigger’s life, Max claims, “we planned the murder of Mary Dalton, and today we come to court and say: ‘We had nothing to do with it!” He tries to show the court how white society played a part in Mary’s death, rather than Bigger being completely responsible. Is it within Bigger’s fate to become a killer in order to revolt against the society that villainizes him? The debate of fate was also present during class discussion through the idea that “black people are born already dead.” I believe this idea would resonate with Bigger in how death was always fated to be a part of his life. Before meeting the Daltons, he meanders through life a dead man, and will now certainly die for taking a white girl’s life.

Possession and Control

One of the main events of Book Two in Richard Wright’s Native Son is Bigger tragically killing Mary on his first night of work at the Daltons. Throughout the book, we as readers get a great insight into what is going on in Bigger’s head, how he truly feels about killing Mary, and how he feels about the consequences he may face in the world as a result of that. One of the main themes that ran through Bigger’s thoughts, that I noticed, was an aspect of control or possession that Bigger felt after he killed Mary which he had not really expressed or felt prior. Before Bigger killed Mary, he often communicated that he did not have much control in his world, control over his identity as a Black man, control over his ability to get a job and succeed, control over the situation when Mary and Jan were in the car with him, and more. However, after killing Mary, Bigger makes a huge change. He expressed how suffocating Mary, throwing her in the furnace, and knowing all of this “was something that was all his own, and it was the first time in his life he had had anything that others could not take from him” (Wright 105). It was very interesting, but more importantly concerning to see how Bigger felt better knowing that he had something of that magnitude to hold over people. He felt as though the murder “had created a new life for himself” and that he finally had possession over something of great importance to many people (Wright 105).

Bigger never really had possession or control over something like this or any property that was exclusively for him before, except for the knowledge and truth about Mary. Having that control over others gave Bigger a lot of confidence in himself and he became fearless. This is all shown for example when Bigger sees Peggy with the letter, when he tells Mr. Dalton and Britten his story about what happened that night, and even when the men from the news question Bigger at the Dalton’s home. Bigger felt as though he is this big mastermind behind the truth about Mary and finally has control over these people who were once so intimidating him. Having control over them with his knowledge makes Bigger feel equal to them which makes him feel better about himself. Because Bigger knew the truth, he was able to control the narrative and conceal the truth about Mary being “kidnapped”. He no longer feared the white people in the same way he once did and even began acting out more fearlessly than he previously did. He raped and murdered Bessie, pointed his gun at Jan, and more; all things that he probably would not have done if it were not for the “confidence” tragically killing Mary gave him.

When reading this on a surface level, Bigger’s newly acquired confidence, which is only achieved as a result of him killing Mary, seems quite chilling and portrays Bigger in an even more negative manner. However, when looking at it more in depth from a different perspective, I thought that it was sad that Bigger even had to do such a thing for him to feel worthy of attention or to feel something in the world. Although Bigger was indeed responsible for his own actions, I can’t help but wonder how much society and the circumstances surrounding Bigger influenced his fate.

Fate or Consequence 

Book Three of Native Son by Richard Wright, titled “Fate”, attempts at humanizing Bigger Thomas by establishing his case as bigger, no pun intended, than his troubling psyche. Although the reader can predict what is going to happen to Bigger early on in the novel, the majority of “Fate” tries to convince the reader that somehow Bigger might escape his fate. The reader is forced to question if Bigger deserves the death penalty and his lawyer Max makes a pretty decent case for him to be saved. Max’s character plays into the white saviorism trope along with Jan and Mary’s characters and his relation to solidarity becomes clear when he talks about his place in society as a Jewish person. Max’s argument to the court on behalf of Bigger is probably the one clarity one will get from the novel. He tries to make sense of Bigger’s actions and turn the situation into an argument of the collective African American experience. I think that he knew that Bigger couldn’t be saved but he used the situation to make a case for social injustice in america. It’s pretty clear that Bigger is going to die though, no matter how convincing Max’s speech is. Although noble, how do you make sense of a disaster? It’s hard to analyze this novel and establish some sort of meaning to it because everything is so hard to justify. It’s hard to give Bigger’s life any meaning because his behavior was so extreme that one cannot just say he’s a product of his environment. It seems as though Wright wants the reader to hate Bigger from the way he writes about him. Throughout the novel Wright feels the need to remind us that Bigger is a poor black man who is going to live a poor black life and never amount to anything. For example, deep into the novel on page 285 it states, “Bigger’s black face rested in his hands and he did not move” (Wright 285). Wright wants the reader to have a negative connotation of the word “black”. What’s even worse about this book is that the ending establishes prison as fate for black men. Prison is often described as a place of familiarity for black men and this novel contributes to that stereotype. Max argues that prison will be a refuge for Bigger, which is a paradoxical concept. Max describes life in prison as literally giving Bigger a chance at a better life, but how much growth could occur when Bigger is portrayed as unsaveable? Death is the fate of all humans, but this depressing narrative connotes death with blackness. It’s hard to make sense of this novel just as it is hard to make sense of Bigger’s character. 

“There is no white community”: cultural appropriation and pop-culture in the US

How do we understand race in the modern digital age? In our conversation on Wednesday about the essay “On Being White and Other Lies” by James Baldwin, we discussed the choice to become white when European immigrants reached American shores. These people gave up their unique heritages for homogeny. As James Baldwin wrote, “America became white because of a necessity of denying the black presence, and justifying black subjugation” (Baldwin 1). This led me to question how we see ourselves as Americans today, and the future of race in America because of this homogeny. As a midwesterner, I share many interests and speech patterns that are considered universally “American”. I love hot dogs and baseball games, I say “ope” in awkward moments with stranger, etc. But because of the institution of white supremacy, anything American has become synonymous with whiteness. As a false identity created to support racism, it is ironic that today it is popular for young white people to appropriate black culture.

American pop-culture is becoming increasingly more homogenous, and it is harder and harder to separate internet slang from African American culture. Mainstream colloquialisms popularized on social media are drawn heavily from African American Vernacular English. Daily, I hear familiar words and sayings I remember from growing up, the way I speak with other black people, emerging as poor imitations from the lips of white students. I hear my culture distorted and appropriated, used like a knowing look, an offhand word or phrase thrown into a conversation as a reference of that one TikTok we’ve all seen (remember that meme?) like a joke we’re all in on. The AAVE is usually preceded by a pause, like a comedian before a punchline. An extreme example would be of the viral TikTok of a white woman describing her frustration with her concert tickets, exclaiming, “No like, I finna be in the pit” , which garnered an appropriate amount of backlash.

We see this in other ways online. If we think back to viral videos on vine or popular reaction pictures and gifs from the early 2010’s, most of these images were at the expense of a black person. A modern Jumpin’ Jim Crow – the image of blackness continues to be used as entertainment for white people. Baldwin equates the choice of whiteness to a “moral erosion”. He uses the example of black people in athletics, and discusses how white people watch in either relief or embitterment by the black presence on the team, but do not face what black athletes had to pay to get to that position because of white supremacy. Black bodies were used as commodities to build this country, and although slavery seems long ago the black body continues to be commodified: the product of our tongues (music, language etc), our hair, our lips, our curves, our style are sold on the market: lip fillers, BBLs, waist trainers, self-tanner.

With the appreciation/appropriation of blackness in mainstream American culture, does Baldwins assertion that “there is no white community” still ring true? This is a difficult question given the universality of American culture. I think that the problem of whiteness as described in Baldwin’s work has reached farther extremes than Baldwin could have imagined in the 21st century. Homogeny has eroded the uniqueness of black culture and commodified it for economic gain. Is this commodification and appropriation a symptom of the “crisis of leadership” ? That paradox that “those who believed that they could control and define Black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves” (Baldwin 5)? Possibly a lack of definition in white culture caused an reaching to other cultures for definition.

However frustrating and degrading cultural appropriation can be, African American culture’s integral role in making American culture is the fulfillment of Baldwin’s assertion that “We—who were not Black before we got here either, who were defined as Black by the slave trade—have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a very long time, and have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived, and triumphed over it.” (Baldwin 5). Black culture’s dominance in America is a testament to our resilience and is something to be proud of.

Some could say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that might be a little too on the nose.

Response to ‘On Being White and Other Lies’

Being white in America, to me has never been a choice. Coming from a mixed-race background, there was never truly a place for me to fit in. I was neither black enough nor white enough. I was always stuck in the middle, with no true place to fit in. I had never thought about how people came to America and chose to be white. Yet, I understand that choice. In the past and currently, people have been biased toward anyone who is not considered white. There are many people who wish they were white. Yet, one thing I do not think Baldwin had considered is the happenings in today’s world where people claim it is easier to be a minority. The amount of times I have been told it is easier to be a minority than to be white today is obnoxious honestly. People do not see the past anymore, as much as they claim. Everyone focuses on today. People choose to not see the way that people have been put down in the past, so these ‘equality’ rights were put into place. With the recent change in affirmative action, I wonder if this will change people’s minds. I do not believe that it has ever been easier to be a minority anywhere, including America.

Baldwin wrote ‘This moral erosion has made it quite impossible for those who
think of themselves as white in this country to have any moral authority at all—privately, or publicly.’ Yet, I do not believe that people view it this way. People take in the non-white form in ways they wish to view them, be it an athlete or a fighter, but do not always wish to accept them as a regular person. They do not want to view them as a neighbor, or a doctor. ‘White’ people will look up to non-whites for abilities they view they do not-have, the athleticism, the quick thinking. This is not to say that white people do not have those abilities, but will white people ever be able to take the moral high ground again? Or will they continue on with the notion that all is right in the world in which they claim?


Book 1 of Native Son was a fascinating reading. The majority of the reading consists of Bigger’s efforts towards self-actualization. It reminded me very much of the events of A Raisin in the Sun. When I read that play for the first time in high school, we discussed at length the relevance of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs within the story. Self-actualization is the final level of needs that can be sought after, but the most important in my opinion. A sense of individuality, purpose, and conviction are accomplished when this need is satisfied. Bigger is wanting of this, as Wright describes multiple instances of emasculation and frustration. My prediction is that the struggle towards self-actualization or the stark absence of it will play a critical role in these characters’ lives as well. Bigger is a frustrated young man who dreams of more for himself. His employment with the Daltons is portrayed as a stroke of luck at first for Bigger and his poor family, but the vapid liberalism, “white savior”-ness, and fascination the Daltons have towards Bigger and the black community in general poisons their good deeds. Could Mrs. Dalton’s blindness be a physical manifestation of her and her family’s color-blindness? The Dalton family present an extremely complex dynamic in wanting to help the people they employ, and yet Bigger still feels ill at ease around them, especially Mary. He simultaneously hates yet is captivated by her. They are reciprocally transfixed on each other, but in quite malicious and selfish ways. Mary wants to observe Bigger like an animal in captivity, while Bigger wants to take advantage of Mary in order to feel any control. Mary’s death was a complete shock. I felt sympathy for Bigger at first as he had put himself in serious danger, but his intentions and feelings are becoming more confusing and unreliable. On the surface, he is a poor black kid who has murdered a rich white girl. Will he escape the consequences of his actions? Will society be able to forgive him?