Custom essays: The nature and limits of racial barriers in the USA and Henry Gates’ “Colored people”

Henry Louis Gates Colored people gives very good explanation and understanding of who are black people, but though his own experience and understanding. In this memoir Gates speaks about history of two families, Colemans (the author’s mother’s family) and the Gates (the author’s father’s family). He wrote My grandfather was colored, my father was Negro, and I am black. It is interesting how Gates uses different words: colored, Negro, black, which all mean something different at different times and places. He several times uses rhetoric of racial identity, for example: But my uncles and I did battle more and more, especially when I stopped being a Negro, turned black, and grew the first Afro in Piedmont, West Virginia (Gates, p.184).
It is possible to say that the author speaks about the problem of perceptions of blacks, attitudes toward blacks. It is known that in the second half of the 20th century it is not permitted to openly use the word black, and because of political correctness there was introduced the word “African American” to avoid mention of skin color. But if it is not permitted to use it, then black or dark skin color means something offensive? That is, avoiding the word “black” already implies that something is wrong, humiliating in this word, assuming it is obvious that the word “black” is equivalent to the word “slave”. Thus the author of different uses such words as black, Negro and African-American. custom essays
In Colored people the author tells about his childhood and his family, about their life and position in society, which coincided with the process of desegregation and integration of people in America. This process took place during 1957-1968 when were adopted laws on civil rights, racial segregation and discrimination in their resettlement in public places, with fair housing and employment, in education, health care and voting rights. It is important to note that Gates belongs to the generation of African-Americans who lived in the post-Civil Rights period, and first experienced results of integration. Radical shifts in the social structure of African-American community in the second half of XX century made more flexible boundaries between the classes, and also between different layers in the black class. (Sethi, 2004)
The author shows on his own experience what changes in society occurred during that integration process, how white and black for the first time began to live and work together on equal terms. That is, in his memoirs Gates attempted to show the life that the black lived, and he said: “You want to know what being black is, here, let me show you.” (Gates, 1995)
One of the most interesting is considered the chapter In the Kitchen, in which Gates tells about African American hair. He writes about his mum who straitened her hair, as good hair is straight, and bad hair is kinky. That is, the black are trying to imitate certain stereotypes of beauty. In fact, this example shows stereotypes concerning not only the hair, but the way of thinking and ideology in society, as black people want to get rid of stereotypes and some attributes of black nationality, to become part of the country of whites. And Gates writes that: “I want to be black, to know black, to luxuriate in whatever I might be calling blackness at any particular time,” he writes, “but to do so in order to come out on the other side, to experience a humanity that is neither colorless nor reducible to color.” (Gates, 1995)
After all, whatever the achievements in the field of human rights and racial relations in the American society and the international community, still there are racial barriers among the black and white. Henry Gates shows that despite the “color barrier”, the African Americans has always had the confidence that they can become equal Americans. A thought about the potential of flowering of African American culture under the condition of racial equality in the United States is found in all the work of the author.


Works cited:
Sethi R., Somanathan R. Inequality and Segregation. Journal of Political Economy, 2004
Gates Henry Louis. Colored People: A Memoir. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.


Leave a Reply