I’ve just been enraptured, yet again, on my third reading of ‘The Ways of White Folks’ by Langston Hughes. I would like to see this book taught in every high school in America because it can truly advance our national conversation about race — and it was written in 1933!
Every story in this collection highights a different aspect of race relations, from brutal oppression to condescension, and every character stands up and walks as if you knew them yourself.
There is a brilliant story of a young black man, adopted by white parents, who is given every advantage, except when it comes to debutantes — they were off limits. His family takes him off to Paris, but they end up staying in a hotel next to Josephine Baker, and of course, hilarity ensues.
Hughes has tremendous fun with ‘Rejuvenation Through Joy’, a story about scam artists luring rich people into a life-improvement scheme involving African rhythms. Works great until the drummer cheats on his girlfriend and she comes up to Connecticut and shoots him.
But I believe the finest story of all is ‘Home’, and I would argue this is the best short story ever written. Find it and read it; that’s all I can say.
Hughes writes as an omniscent narrator, but the reader can sense, on the part of this narrator, a deep understanding of life, and, in spite of all, a deep love of life. Surely this is the way forward in our conversation about race.