The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

in this chapter johnson discussed negro marrying mates of higher complexions in order for thier chlidren to have better opportunities in society. is this method an accceptance of negro acceptance of their inferiority to whites?

chapter 10

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No, I do not believe that the excerpt below is one of acceptance of inferiority. In context, I see this as the way in which the negro grapples with the question of color.

In a previous chapter I spoke of social life among colored people; so there is no need to take it up again here. But there is one thing I did not mention: among Negroes themselves there is the peculiar inconsistency of a color question. Its existence is rarely admitted and hardly ever mentioned; it may not be too strong a statement to say that the greater portion of the race is unconscious of its influence; yet this influence, though silent, is constant. It is evidenced most plainly in marriage selection; thus the black men generally marry women fairer than themselves; while, on the other hand, the dark women of stronger mental endowment are very often married to light-complexioned men; the effect is a tendency toward lighter complexions, especially among the more active elements in the race. Some might claim that this is a tacit admission of colored people among themselves of their own inferiority judged by the color line. I do not think so. What I have termed an inconsistency is, after all, most natural; it is, in fact, a tendency in accordance with what might be called an economic necessity. So far as racial differences go, the United States puts a greater premium on color, or better, lack of color, than upon anything else in the world. To paraphrase, “Have a white skin, and all things else may be added unto you.” I have seen advertisements in newspapers for waiters, bell boys or elevator men, which read, “Light colored man wanted.” It is this tremendous pressure which the sentiment of the country exerts that is operating on the race. There is involved not only the question of higher opportunity, but often the question of earning a livelihood; and so I say it is not strange, but a natural tendency. Nor is it any more a sacrifice of self respect that a black man should give to his children every advantage he can which complexion of the skin carries, than that the new or vulgar rich should purchase for their children the advantages which ancestry, aristocracy, and social position carry. I once heard a colored man sum it up in these words, “It’s no disgrace to be black, but it’s often very inconvenient.”


The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man