Lonely Outsiders

Lonely Outsiders

WHITE MAN, LISTEN!, by Richard Wright

No one knows better than Richard Wright that the white man has not listened for a century, has neither plans nor intention to start listening now and probably couldn’t listen if he wanted to. The voices of Asia, Africa and the colonial world are blocked to him by an accumulation of rubbish. Wright’s book, as he says himself, is for the “Westernized” elite of the non-European world, the “lonely outsiders” existing on the margins of many cultures. Even though it consists of a collection of speeches delivered before European audiences, this book is the author talking largely to himself, about himself and for himself. It is an important book and the neglect it has met in America only emphasizes the blocking off of communication between the West—all sectors of the West—and as Wright puts it, ” … a billion and a half colored people in violent political motion.” Richard Wright tells us he is neither perturbed nor unhappy in his chosen state of “alienation”; from his lonely perch in Paris, a Paris swept by waves of “Americanization” and wasting its last energies in a futile colonial war, Wright keeps both his sense of judgment and his passion. He has not forgotten who he is; Bandung was clearly a turning point for him, the crystalization of anti-colonialism into new forms not understood by the white man nor, for that matter, too well understood by those representing the best democratic and socialist traditions of the West. For Wright, Bandung was the first coming together of that “tragic elite” whose thought and mentality, whose very soul he is attempting to explain to us:

The present-day attitude of the national revolutionary in Asia and Africa has the quality of a man who has been put to sleep for centuries and awakens to find the world of which he was once a functioning part roaring past him. He is bewildered, hurt, stunned, filled with a sense of self-hate … The world that such man sees is devoid of meaning. He looks into this or that theory to find an idea of what has happened to him and his kind. And when he selects a theory, whether it be Marxism or any other revolutionary doctrine, he is not so much concerned emotionally with whether that theory is right or wrong, but whether it fits his feeling and most nearly describes what he sees and feels.

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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