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Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man: Critical Analysis of Parental Judgment

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Parental Judgment

Draft question: What parental judgment goes on to informing the children?

Every human being should have the right to know the truth about their background in order to recognize their own identity. Although it is comprehendible that a parent only wants to protect his or her child from any harm, it is better to know sooner from the parent rather than anyone else. In The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson demonstrates how the silence of a mother affected the protagonist early in his childhood for not knowing about his racial background. As well in Passing, Nella Larsen shows how the parents have a conflict between which is the best strategy, silence or acknowledgment, to raise their child with. Also, in Lost Boundaries, director Alfred L. Werker indicates how the community may play a role deciding whether the parents should express their identity or keep it a secret. Due to the poor parental judgment, children should not suffer the after consequences of the hidden ethnicity roots.

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The narrator in The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, confronts a difficult time in his childhood due to the silence of his mother. He found out the truth about his racial background by a teacher. Ironically, his classmates also “knew he was colored” (Johnson 7). The narrator suffers a traumatic experience “which was years in healing” (8) and would “never [have] forgiven the woman who did it so cruelly” (8). The reader can see the child suffers the harsh consequences due to the wrong parental judgment. Subsequently, the narrator confronts his mother about the discovery of his mixed race. He wants his mother to answer his question, “am I a nigger?” (8). The question demonstrates how the lack of information from his mother made him insult himself using the word “nigger”. Moreover, the narrator believes African Americans are inferior to any other race. After he used to believe his mother was “the most beautiful women in the world” (8), he critically analyzes her physical characteristics “searching for defects” (8) as if being from an African American descent was an indecent thing to be. Evidently, keeping the truth hidden is not the best parental strategy. Although the parent may believe that by not telling him about his racial background she is protecting him from discrimation, in reality she is preventing him from discovering his own identity. Between the families, there may be disagreements between which is the best strategy to raise their children with.

Nella Larsen illustrates the conflict between the parents whether to tell their children about their racial background or to keep it hidden. Irene, the mother of two children, has a different approach to the situation versus her husband Brian. She believes that by keeping their “race problem” (Larsen 83) away from their children they would be able “to be happy and free” (83). Unfortunately that is not the case since “somebody called Junior a dirty nigger” (83). Her children will encounter people with a different mindset not caring if the children get emotionally hurt. She would rather have her children learn “about such horrible things when they’re older” (83) even thought she realizes they encounter those situations in the present. Meanwhile, Brian believes the best tactic to the situation is for them to “find out what sort of thing they’re up against as soon as possible…[to be] better prepared” (83). This way, the children will be aware of the what they will encounter in the future based on their race. The community will have an input whether it is positive or negatively but it is up to the adults to take control of the situation.

Director Alfred L. Werker denotes the function of the community on how it affects the parental judgment. The film emphasizes the role of people passing as white: a person who is hiding their ethnicity in order to be treated like a white person. Scott and Marcia, who were Southern Negros, were forced to pass as a white family due to the conditions of the community that they were living in. Also, they wanted to provide their children with a better opportunity in life free of discrimination. For this reason they were not able to tell their children about their racial background. Although both of their children were grown and mature, the news of being partly African American affected them deeply. Their children were the only ones truly suffering the consequences of not knowing their ethnicity since it affected their social lives. Feeling confused about their identity, they did not allow this circumstance to distance their relationship between their parents.

Parents should be able to freely express their racial background to their children without taking society into consideration. It is a matter of self-dignity to make their children aware of their own ethnicity. Children should have the opportunity to decide whether to embrace their mixed race or ignore the circumstance. The best parental strategy to raise their children with is to let them know of their ethnicity early in their lives.

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