Introduction to Fiction
9 March 2011
African American and Colorism
Racism has been a very prominent issue most commonly between black and white people. Although it is the most acknowledged; it is not the only example of race discrimination. Race discrimination occurs among other ethnicities and backgrounds of people. Sometimes race discrimination can transpire because of people’s point of views on certain things, such as religion, color, age, or even gender. In the stories, “The Wife of His Youth” and “Desiree’s Baby” racism and some other forms of discrimination are present, but surprisingly it isn’t one race opposing another. It is black on black racism, or more specifically “colorism;” this is discrimination based on skin color (Nittle 1). “Wife of His Youth,” a short story by Charles Chesnutt addresses the tussles of race as a light skinned and dark African American subsequently to the American civil war, through the characters Mr. Ryder and Liza Jane. While equally black; the lighter skin (Mr. Ryder) had a social advantage during segregation eras. Kate Chopin’s story “Desiree’s Baby” has a comparable theme in despite of its setting; it took place previous to the civil war. It concerns Desiree and her husband Armand; who give birth to a darker skinned child. Their fear that society would discard them leads the story to a tragic ending. Although, Charles Chesnutt’s story was written after the civil war and Kate Chopin’s was written prior to the civil war, both stories show that discrimination still existed categorically within African American ethnic groups. A gross amount of Charles Chesnutt works exemplifies the hardships he endured in the south as a light African American more specifically “Wife of His Youth,” which is a short story that took place after the civil war. Chesnutt satirically reveals not only the difficulties faced by racially blended individuals but also their intense prejudices against more darkly shaded African Americans. Chesnutt himself was a product of mixed marriage as well: indeed he was identified as an African American however he often referred to himself as white American too (Rossetti 1). Mr. Ryder who was the main character in the short story, “The Wife of His Youth” by Charles Chesnutt, had a similar biography as Chesnutt. Mr. Ryder was well respected by his society called the Blue Veins. According to Fleischmann, “Their existence, as little society of colored persons [whose] purpose it was to establish and maintain correct social standard among a people whose social condition presented almost unlimited room for improvement” ( Chesnutt 463). This Blue Veins society was a society within the larger society. The larger society also known as the “white powered society” had no place for African Americans. There was no room for middle ground where African American and Caucasians could prosper. The Blue Veins society was created so that lighter skinned, colored people whose skin appeared so white that their veins showed like Mr. Ryder, could have significant membership in this white society. (Chesnutt 1)They did not want to be categorized with the darker African American groups. In the short story, “No one was eligible for membership who was not white enough to show Blue Veins” (Chesnutt 1). With this short story Chesnutt demonstrates that color matters within the race. The Blue Veins society does not emphasize culture of the race but how light their skin color appears. People like Liza Jane, the wife of Mr. Ryder would not be qualified for membership in his society because she was exceptionally black and her social rank in society was a former as a plantation worker. As the reader’s proceeds towards the end, some may detest Mr. Ryder true emotions. The reader may realize that although Mr. Ryder initially tried to abscond from his black ancestry through the Blue Veins society; he is conflicted with this guilt. Liza Jane suddenly shows...
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