The Morality of Racism Essay Example

The Birth of the Nation and The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man both exhibit the morality of racism, but the standpoints set them apart in numerous ways. The Birth of the Nation was a silent film directed by D.W. Griffith in the early 1900’s which portrayed extreme racism. It illustrates the African Americans as barbaric beings and the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic group that rose up to power to protect the women and society, other known as the knight and shining armor of this time. Whilst there were distinctly different viewpoints from both races in this film and it being entirely one-sided, that was not the case in the book The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man written by James Johnson. The unnamed protagonist in this novel can see both sides of this controversy between the Anglos and the African Americans because he could identify as both.

The Birth of a Nation was about two white families in the Civil War and a love story between someone who supported the Union and another person that supported the Confederates. Taking place during the Civil war era, the racism in this movie seemed to be way more over the top than it really was. The first thing you may notice in this film is the actors in blackface. They had white actors with painted faces to represent African Americans, which is extremely disrespectful to the race. Griffith made it obvious in the film that he believed the African Americans were lazy, animalistic, and the only thing that they were good for is their servitude to the whites. This was demonstrated throughout the film in countless ways. An obvious detail that goes along with this idea is the way the African Americans would dance in a gorilla-like manner. In one scene a white woman actually kills herself after rejecting a marriage proposal from a former slave; this is the actual event that led to the creation of the Ku Klux Klan in the film. African American men were portrayed as predators that white women should fear. The film also shows many other inaccurate stereotypes towards the race. This film basically morphed the violent plan of the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed them as a courageous group. This promotes the ideology of white, racist, confederates and makes them seem like noblemen while on the other hand demotes African Americans.

Similarly, in the Autobiography of the Ex-Colored Man, they looked down upon those of color. This was first unveiled to the nameless narrator when he was at school. He was not aware that the word “nigger” was such an atrocious word and used it without hesitation when talking to his mother about another student “Shiny”. His mother, of course, strongly showed her disappointment towards her son, but that did not phase him. Little did he know was that he was biracial, but he did not realize this until the principal came into the class.

“I wish all of the white scholars to stand for a moment.”

He rose with the others. The teacher noticed and ordered him to sit down. After getting clarification on what she said, he sat down astounded. He went home and ordered an explanation from his mother wondering if he was a “nigger” and why he was told to sit down. He was informed that she was indeed “colored” but his father was “the best blood in the South” which made him both white and black (Johnson). This displays that African Americans were frowned upon and it was tragic to be of that race. After this shocking news, he realized he no longer fit in with his white nor black classmates. He now saw America in a different way because he knew he was different.

Like The Birth of the Nation, there was horrific violence. The narrator began doing things that could help him find out who he really was as he grew up and of course this would not come with ease. During his days of gambling, he found himself flirting with a white widow and unfortunately her African American companion shot her dead and the narrator fled the scene. He traveled for a bit afterward but decided to go back to the South. When he arrived in Macon, there was a riot happening outside of where he was staying. As he went to go see what happened the crowds grew larger and larger and discovered white men burning an African American alive (88). He then decided it was best to be known as a white man in this time period. It eventually paid off when he married the woman he loved and was able to raise his children without a problem, but he always had a little bit of guilt from not being true to himself.

Although both the film and the novel involved racism and violence they are seen in different ways, in my opinion. Them both being during the Civil War era, I believe that The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man shows more of the reality during that period and had both white and blacks perspectives, unlike The Birth of the Nation where it was based solely on the African Americans being truly uncivilized, but that was not the case. It is important to be able to understand both sides.


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