24 October The Education of Being Black in Ellison’s “On Being the Target of Discrimination.” Racism is not an unintendedact, but a deliberate attempt to discriminate against minority groups through controlling public places and policymaking. Ellison makes this argument clear through his essay, “On Being the Target of Discrimination.” This essay begins with his public education and what it entails. Ellison argues that real education is not obtained inside the four corners of the classroom, but outside it. The education about the reality of socioeconomic and political inequality because of racism comes from everyday experiences, where Ellison learns that the government and society promote and condone racism, and that racism stifles the ability of black people to reach their full potential as human beings.
The government creates laws and institutions that promote institutional racism. Schools should be a place for equal learning, but Ellison reveals its true purpose: “[it was a] new public school …exclusively for whites” (Ellison page 66 par. 1). Blacks and whites are equally paying their taxes, but the public systems prefer to serve the whites. Clearly, the education is geared toward the education of the dominant race and aims to leave the poor minorities in a deep level of ignorance. Furthermore, Ellison’s daily experiences toward his school reflect the disparaging gap, not only between the rich and the poor, but between whites and blacks. He talks about the route of a “viaduct,” warehouses,” and “docks, even a “red-light district” on the way to school (Ellison 66.2). This kind of route is not appropriate for young students, but apparently, the blacks are located far enough from school and near their workplaces. The setting indicates social segregation, where the whites have placed the blacks in their proper place. In addition, the government controls public entertainment spaces. Ellison wants to go to the zoo, but it is suddenly closed to black children. He wants to understand the reason why he cannot see the zoo, while white children can, but her mother says: “Quit asking questions, it’s the law…” (Ellison 66.4). The idea of no longer questioning the law indicates the political powerlessness of the blacks. When public spaces are white spaces, the government further entrenches the blacks in poverty and powerlessness.
Society condones racism because of its inability to integrate the whites and the minorities as equals. The red-light district symbolizes the peripheral and subordinate treatment of blacks. The black prostitutes feed the white men’s desire, which reflects that the former are momentary visible to the whites, only when they want them to be. In addition, society promotes ideas that blacks are naturally “inferior” (Ellison 69.21). Ellison cannot believe this thinking because blacks have not even been given the opportunity to prove themselves. Indeed, a society that denies basic rights to life, liberty, and happiness cannot possibly be given the chance to demonstrate their talents.
Ellison reveals that because of racism, blacks will not reach their full potential. As a child, he dreams to be a musician. He wants it so much that he plays with a white man’s band without being invited. When a man learns that a “little nigger” is playing, he runs away (Ellison 70.27). His “guilt and embarrassment” (Ellison 71.28) shows that these feelings should not be felt in the first place, if only blacks and white are equal. But they are not equal, and all Ellison has is his black humor to relieve the tension of being black.
The essay shows that the government is actively shaping a society after the will and welfare of the whites, while the society reinforces racism with its own prejudice and discrimination against blacks. Ellison only wants to learn enough to prove that he is an equal of any white. His society, however, rejects access to similar opportunities for learning. In doing so, it keeps the blacks inferior, not because they naturally are, but because of their environment that wants them to be so. Hence, the essay argues that if many blacks remain poor and unskilled, society and the government must blame themselves, for they are the greatest obstacles to the black community’s attainment of their uppermost human potential.
Ellison, Ralph. “On Being the Target of Discrimination.” Web. 25 Oct. 2012. .