Black Boy Chapter 9
Forced to go to work to avoid total poverty, Richard works at a clothing store run by whites. The store sells clothes to poor blacks on a highly expensive layaway plan. The plan cheats them, but they are too poor to buy things any other way. At the store, Richard witnesses extreme brutality. One woman is beaten bloody and then thrown into the streets, where she is arrested for drunkenness. "That's what we do to niggers who don't pay their bills," one man tells Richard. Chapter 9, pg. 184 Later, another man pulls him aside and asks why he doesn't smile and laugh like the other blacks on the job. When he tells him he doesn't see much to laugh or smile about, the man gets nervous and angry and fires him.
Soon after, he sees Griggs, a boy he went to school with, washing windows outside a shop. Griggs mentions that he is aware of Richard's problems with fitting in on the job. He tells Richard that he must smile and be submissive when whites are around, always showing them that he remembers that they are white, and that when he is alone he can think whatever he wants. Richard says he can't act like a slave, but Griggs counters with the notion that he doesn't want to end up dead either. With Griggs' help, he gets a job at an optician's office. His boss, a Northerner ("Yankee"), is sympathetic and instructs Richard's fellow workers, all white men, to teach Richard some of the optical trade. The men seem friendly, but never offer to help him. When he finally asks to be taught, they turn on him, threatening him until he promises to leave the job. Mr. Crane, his boss, knows something is wrong and so gives Richard extra money on his last day.