Chapter 17 Notes from Black Boy

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Black Boy Chapter 17

At the relief station, Richard notices other impoverished people talking together. He realizes that this communication could lead to organization of the poor, and eventually revolution. He wonders what direction they would go: would they accept Communism? He becomes less cynical and more questioning. He argues that those who remove themselves from a society, rather than those who actively fight it, pose the most threat to it.

At Christmas time he is working again, this time in a hospital as a janitor in experimental labs. He notices that although the racial situation seems to be slowly changing enough that he is invited into the homes of whites, there is still a sharp racial divide. Various passersby lazily walk with muddy shoes over the floor Richard has just cleaned, and do not even notice him. The white doctors will answer no questions about their experiments, preferring to leave the curious Richard ignorant. They use the same stupid jokes as Southern whites, saying that if he learns too much, his head will explode. One day, two of Richard's co-workers get into a fight and knock over many cages holding experimental animals. Frantic, the men quickly place the rabbits and guinea pigs back in cages according to the only system they can come up with: external clues such as those with shaved bellies versus those without. Richard wryly observes that if he had been told anything about the experiments, he would have known how to organize the animals. He notes that whites seem willing to suffer any consequence in order to keep blacks ignorant and segregated.

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