Black Boy: Chapter 6
At an interview for a job doing chores for a white family, Richard laughs when asked directly if he steals, responding that if he were a thief he wouldn’t tell anyone. Checking himself, he replies that he doesn’t steal, and gets the job, chopping wood and washing dishes before breakfast, which he is disappointed to see includes only moldy bread and molasses while the family feasts in the dining room. Surprised to learn he is still in school, the lady of the house asks him about his reasons for attending seventh grade and he tells her of his hope to become a writer. She expresses her belief that he will never become a writer, and he determines never to go back, lying to his family that they’d hired another boy. His next employer is shocked to learn a black boy does not know how to milk a cow. She teaches him not only how to milk, but how alike white people in Jackson are in their assumptions about black people. He has lots of stories to share with his peers at the corner store at lunch, recounting tales of the rudeness of the white family members towards one another.
His own mother is faring better, and as she regains her health she convinces Richard to attend Methodist services with her. He and several other boys are singled out by the preacher, who has asked their mothers to persuade their sons to accept God. They undergo baptism somewhat unwillingly, admitting to each other afterwards that they feel no different. Ella again suffers a stroke soon thereafter, and to have enough money Granny invites Tom and his family to move into the crowded house. Tom distrusts Richard, and one morning after asking him the time and not liking the delivery of the answer, threatens him with a whipping. Richard fends him off with a razor blade in each palm, telling him he is no example to him, but a warning, that he never wants to weave chair bottoms for a living, an ironic comment as he prepares for his job working for whites.
Richard’s two descriptions of interviews with white women reveal they hold as many stereotypes of him as he does of them. He maintains his dignity by quitting the first job when it becomes apparent the food and company there will not quench either his bodily or intellectual hunger, but may in fact do more harm than good. The second job is no less offensive, but he is willing to learn to milk and hold his tongue for wages that enable him to fraternize with his black peers, who have become extremely important to him. Especially because of the strains within his family, Richard depends on his classmates for normal social interactions. Although his mother improves briefly, even during her period of relative health she is unable to connect with her son, who is baptized nearly by force but is quick to say he feels no differently. The violent interaction with his Uncle Tom soon thereafter shows Richard’s tense family dynamic has not changed but perhaps even worsened, as he grows physically and emotionally less willing to be beaten down by those around him. His estranged relationship with Tom mirrors the violence surrounding nearly all his relationships with adult males. Since being abandoned by his father, Richard has endured his grandfather’s bitterness and his uncles’ rage, seeking closeness with female family members no more available to him, whether due to being physically ill or religiously so zealous they are unable to provide him with normal family comforts.