Intolerance in Society
One thing everyone can agree on, no matter what, is that everyone is different. People come in different shapes, sizes, colors, ethnicities, cultures, religious beliefs, and lifestyles. Every single individual should have to liberty to be himself or herself. In society, diversity is something that should be applauded. However, many individuals still practice intolerance and prejudice. The short stories “Big Black Good Man” written by Richard Wright and “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver are perfect examples of intolerance still being exhibited. “Big Black Good Man” centers on the injustices African Americans often times have to endure. “Cathedral” focuses on the intolerance some individuals have with people who have disabilities. Although these stories have two different kinds of inequalities happening, they both share a theme of prejudice and both successfully teach one the importance of not practicing intolerance.
Previously mentioned, “Big Black Good Man” focuses on the prejudice that many face because of their race. In this case, it is between a Caucasian man showcasing his racism and “fear” of African Americans. Olaf, the Caucasian male, repeatedly states he is not racist at all and states he has given service to many other black males and has not had a problem with it (186). However, when describing Jim, the African American, Olaf thinks, “But this particular black man…Well, he didn’t seem human. Too big, too black, too loud, too direct, and probably too violent to boot (…) There was something about the man’s intense blackness and ungainly bigness that frightened and insulted Olaf” (185). Olaf’s thoughts insinuate that even being black is too much. His repetition of the word “too” showcases his ignorance towards African American people. Also, to say someone can be ‘intensely black’ is highly insulting. Olaf was implying there was a distinction between what is considered normally black individuals versus what is not. Obviously, that is degrading and humiliating to the African American community. He displayed his lack of knowledge and his racism by saying things like “too loud” and “too black” as if people are not allowed to be loud or direct. Adding on, skin color is out of anyone’s control making his statement hurtful and fallacious. By just saying “too black”, one can infer Olaf is racist and displays a lot of prejudice against Jim. Again, Olaf repeatedly tries to argue he is not prejudice. He asserts, “I’m not prejudiced…No, not at all…But…He couldn’t think anymore. God oughtn’t make men as big and black as that…” It is important to know there is a narrator whom conveys Olaf’s thoughts. Also, the story often switches from first person to third person. With that being said, the quotation proves his absolute bigoted views. Thinking that god should not make men big and black is plain ignorant to think. Contrary to Olaf’s narrow-minded beliefs, Jim was not a bad person for being “big” or “black”. They were just his natural born traits. It displays his views on African Americans.
The article “The Effects of Racism, African Self- Consciousness and Psychological Functioning on Black Masculinity: A Historical and Social Adaptation Framework” written by Martin R Pierce explains the injustices African Americans face in society. He explains,
African-American men are twice as likely to be unemployed as white men (Wilson, 1992, 1991; Wilson 1978) and earn on aver- age only 73% of the income earned by their White male counterparts (Watson & Smitherman, 1996). Furthermore, African American males are vastly underrepresented in professional and managerial positions, and are almost entirely absent in other fields such as high-tech and science-related jobs that require access to advanced training and educational opportunities (National Research Council, 1989).
It is evident that black people, more specifically, black men do not get treated equally in society. They also are not given the same opportunities as others. Though Olaf was treating one particular individual this way, society treats many black men this way. Black men (and women) are not paid as much as Caucasian men and are obviously seen as inferior. This is often times called racial discrimination. In the article “New Approaches to Understanding Racial Prejudice and Discrimination” written by Lincoln Quillian , the reality of racial discrimination is explained. He writes, “Racial discrimination is the difference between the treatment that a target group actually receives and the treatment they would receive if they were not members of the target group but were otherwise the same.” It is when people are not treated in the same manner because of their race. It is clear that Olaf treated Jim differently because of his skin color. Perhaps if he
were not black, Olaf would have never been afraid or so invested in this man. When society says things like what Olaf said, it gives room for prejudice and allows racism and bigotry to remain alive. Adding on, practicing prejudice and bigotry allows for society to think it is acceptable to continue being racist. Nonetheless, not every single person in society is being called ‘racist’ or intolerant. On the contrary, that is not the point at all. The point being made is Olaf’s thoughts and actions are racist and prejudice and many people think just like him. This tale teaches one to stray away from those notions because it is intolerant, hurtful, and degrading.
In Cathedral, Carver writes a captivating short story about a married couple and their experience with the wife’s best friend, Robert, who happens to be blind. The narrator of this tale is the husband and writes his thoughts on the visit of this blind man. The husband is incredibly hesitant about having a visually impaired individual in his home. It makes him uncomfortable. He writes, “A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to” (261). He displays a lot of prejudice by just saying that because he was insinuating accommodating a blind man would be so difficult and awkward. Also, he had a preconceived notion about what blind people are like by saying, “My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs” (261). Clearly, his views on the visually impaired are erroneous. Stating that the blind move slowly is offensive; many blind people are able to walk at a normal pace just like those with clear sight. Moreover, he assumed this blind friend would need seeing-eye dogs. Not all blind people require eye-seeing dogs. Also, some visually impaired individuals use other methods to help them navigate themselves. Not to mention, some do not need any methods to help at all. The narrator also believed Robert’s wife Beulah must have led a miserable life being married to Robert because he was not able to physically see her (262). This proves the husband perceived Robert to be unworthy of giving his wife enough love for the simple fact of being blind. He is prejudiced by stating that because people with perfect sight are able to love without been seen. Robert’s wife loved her husband for who he was and sight was irrelevant in their relationship. He was hinting he would be unable to love someone if they were blind. This is hurtful to anyone who is visually impaired as it implies blind people should not be in relationships. Now, this is not the only injustice blind people like Robert have to endure.
The article “Workplace Prejudice Keeps Blind people Out of Employment” written by Henriette Jacobsen affirms,
The blind and heavily impaired sighted people have the highest unemployment rate among disabled groups, despite their great desire to be part of the labor market, according to organizations representing the blind. But, workplace prejudice might be even more crippling than disability, a new survey shows. The survey, conducted by the Danish Blind Society, shows that prejudice is a major reason why so many blind people in Denmark are unemployed. According to the survey, more than one out three Danes is skeptical about having a colleague with sight impairment.
This quote expresses the intolerance the visually impaired must face even in the workforce. Like just stated, it is because of the prejudice that accompanies the impaired that many happen to be unemployed. Also, it is disheartening to know many employers are suspicious when thinking of hiring an individual with a disability is not only worrisome but aggravating. It is illegal to discriminate against anyone in the workforce. It is also highly unethical. When the husband decided to think of Robert in a certain way, with judgment, it proved how many people in society think as well. The alarming facts quoted above show that even in modern society people still choose to be intolerant without even getting to know an individual. This husband encompasses everything an individual should strive not to be. One should encounter everyone, regardless of background, with an open mind and zero-ignorance.
“Cathedral” and “Big Black Good Man” both tell stories that embody what society should try hard not to do. On the one hand, Cathedral focused on prejudice towards people with disabilities. The tale shows the ways people can encounter situations. The wife of the narrator was never prejudiced and welcomed Robert into their home with no judgment and practiced kindness. On the other hand, for majority of Robert’s visit, the husband was very rude and intolerant. He judged the man solely on his disability and had preconceived beliefs before even getting to know him. From this, one can conclude the author wanted the reader to understand the absurdity in discrimination and teach the reader how to try to eradicate prejudice in society. Now, “Big Black Good Man’s” focal point is on the prejudgment of black people. Olaf was bigoted in his perceptions of Jim. He criticized Jim for his skin color but also based all of his ideas of his character off of his skin color. Unfortunately, this occurs a lot in society. Racism is still very alive and is something society has to work on. Olaf is the perfect example of “ignorant” racism. He repeatedly stated he was not racist or close-minded but his actions proved the complete opposite. Therefore, the tale shows one to never accept intolerance, even when people claim it to be “naïve” or “innocent”. The author, Wright, also educates one on the injustices African American’s have to deal with constantly. Both of these stories allow an individual to stray away from being judgmental and ignorant. They showcase despicable characters to teach the lesson of fairness and respect.
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