In August 2020, members of the Richard Wright family wrote statements regarding the social unrest our country has faced and shared them in the “Richard Wright News Bulletin.” In honor of Richard Wright’s 112th birthday on September 4, 2020, HBW begins a three-part series as an inter-generational family tribute to Wright’s legacy.
For all those who are willing to go beyond a mere black square or a BLM hashtag and wish to explore or better understand what it is like to live with a black skin in a white world, I can only invite them to read the books written by my great grandfather, Richard Wright : “Black Boy”, “Native Son”, “White Man, Listen” — to name only the best known titles. He is one of the first African American authors to have lifted the veil on the living conditions of black people in the U.S. His books offer a historical perspective on today’s Black Lives Matter movement. His writings contain the literary and historical soil enabling an understanding of the roots of the claims being made so articulately these past few weeks. Born in 1908 in the state of Mississippi to the son and daughter of slaves, he was able to transcend his hatred of white people to move, over the course of his life, towards a discourse based on tolerance albeit never giving up his activism to promote a social knowledge and recognition of the significance of the black experience in the 20th century. We can only conclude that the goals he set for himself are still being struggled for. Those of you who have seen the film “American History X” will remember that it is one of Richard Wright’s books that the High School Head, Mr. Sweeney, teaches in his literature class in order to give his students the opportunity to discover the other side of the coin of U.S. history : the narrative of the ethnic minorities. An initiative which causes one of the students’ father to become enraged and his son to become a notorious Neo-Nazi skinhead.
Being “white” myself, I have never been directly confronted with what a black man can experience in such a society. However, being Wright’s great grandson, the subject was always present in my family and in the education I was given. Although I did not understand everything immediately, the reading of his works at a very young age enabled me to immerse myself very early in a ramification of themes and concerns whose complexity I may still not completely fathom. I am not accustomed to finding words to say these things for I have never really been an activist, but the murder of George Floyd has turned the subject into a challenging reality and I am seizing the time to speak up about it. Keeping this heritage to myself would be self-centered, it seems to me. Meanwhile, if these issues interest you, you will easily find my great grandfather’s writings in any library.
Maxime Desirat, June 6, 2020
Maxime Desirat, MA in Geography, Geographical Information Systems Analyst, great grandson of Richard Wright.
Selected Works by Richard Wright:
- The Ethics Of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch (1937)
- Uncle Tom’s Children (1938)
- Native Son (1940)
- 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States (1941)
- Black Boy (1945)
- The Outsider (1953)
- Savage Holiday (1954)
- Black Power (1954)
- The Color Curtain (1956)
- Pagan Spain (1957)
- White Man, Listen! (1957)
- The Long Dream (1958)
- Eight Men (1961)
- Lawd Today (1963)
- American Hunger (1977)
- Rite of Passage (1994)
- Haiku: This Other World (1998)
- A Father’s Law ( 2008)