Essay On The Autobiography Of The Ex-Colored Man

1136 Words 5 Pages
Since the creation of man and woman, society has ordered itself through categorization. Whether it be men and women, rich and poor, black and white, slaves and free-men, such classifications have proliferated dichotomous thinking and acting. In the aftermath of the civil war - a war that was fought over the binary institution that was slavery - James Weldon Johnson unravels the complexity of racial ideology in his 1912 novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Through character development and narrative style, Johnson’s novel challenges the traditional conceptions and assumptions of race. Upon reading the novel, initially, one might come to the conclusion that the main theme stems from the struggle for the Ex-Colored Man to identify …show more content…
However, the Ex-Colored Man is not the only “nameless” character, as Johnson does not afford names to any other characters, naming them based on their descriptions or occupations (Shiny, Red Head, Teacher, Porter, Texan). Johnson’s lack of names signifies yet another resistance to classification. Pfeiffer notes that African-American names were usually inherited from their masters, suggesting that all names are “enslaving fictions.” Thus, in the black tradition, renouncing one’s name was an act of self-rule and autonomy from the “master” tradition (). Malcolm X is a classic example of this phenomenon within the African-American community, changing his name from Malcolm Little to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. Pfeiffer gives an explanation as to why Johnson’s characters are pointedly refuse both naming conventions when she states: “He avoids being co-opted by either tradition and opts instead to create his own system of identification, one ruled neither by traditionally white class and power distinctions nor by a rebellion against that paradigm” (411). By refusing names altogether, the Ex-Colored Man refuses to submit himself to the binary nature of …show more content…
Pfeiffer’s overarching assumption of Johnson’s intention in writing the novel is that best summed up in the following: “In fact, through his racial vacillation, the Ex-Colored Man locates his self-invention in an identity which is both sympathetic to many races and independent of any single racial affiliation” (419). Although many would agree that having sympathy to different races is critical to living in such diverse societies as the US, removing oneself from racial affiliation and distinction could prove problematic. It is undoubtedly important that individuals understand that race is socially constructed and lends itself to essentialism; however, it is equally important that we are not a color blind society. In Leslie G. Carrs published “Color-blind” Racism she argues that proponents of color blindness fail to see that a merit-based, race-free worldview often benefits the white-privileged while marginalizing other races. This is true for the Ex-Colored Man, as he is able to achieve success in a privileged society by letting the world take him for his light skin. Without acknowledging color, however, society would be inept in addressing inequalities which stem from the underlying reality that individuals do not all start on an equal playing

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