“Right Place, Wrong Face” by Alton Fitzgerald White is an illustration of the racial prejudices that causes innocent citizens to suffer. This narrative describes the injustice a black man has to suffer when he is victimized because of his racial background and dermal color. His unjust arrest and police’s ignorance towards his civil rights leaves him questioning the ethics, morals, and principles his parents had taught him while he was growing up. His encounter with the dark side of society changes his perception of life.
White uses a chronological structure to keep the reader engaged with the text throughout the narration. He establishes his story by introducing his morals and his beliefs that “if I worked hard, was a good person, and always told the truth, the world will be my oyster,” which subsequently is crushed. Nevertheless, being aware of his upbringing contributes to understanding why the event affects his perspective deeply and why he “sat down crying silent tears of disappointment” as throughout this time he was believing in a false statement.
Also, the detailed account of the day, from the “usual trip to the bank,” and a “pleasant day” to the becoming of a “real-life Coalhouse Walker” creates suspense and a sense of connection with the text to a point where the reader can visualize the events taking place, and feel the tension and confusion, when the author is bewildered by the actions of the stereotypical society. Furthermore, the first person narrative adds to the connection because the reader can identify the anger and be a part of White’s thoughts.
In addition to the structure, White uses many literary devices to keep the audience engaged and to get his point across. The juxtaposition between the use of the body part, the hands, the “standing ovation” for his talent, and the “handcuffed” hands makes the reader think about how being in the “wrong place” can change the entire scenario. When White is on stage, his morals and his values are given importance, but when he is found standing next to the two guilty men, all of his ethics are neglected. Through this, White highlights the injustice black men receive.
Also, White believes that the police “were supposed to serve and protect” him but the truth turns out to be something else, which further enhances his point about the repression black men face. The use of long sentences, in addition to the descriptive words, elevate his convincing voice which persuades the reader to agree with him and sympathize with him for his suffering. The very last line when police tells him that he was at the “wrong place,” to which White replies by saying, ”that’s where I live,” is a very powerful line as it highlights the point that it was his face that was wrong, the racist point of view that was wrong.
When I link this story to my life, I can instantly think of a devastating event that occurred a decade ago. I haven’t experienced anything racist personally, but I know the people of my religion have. After the attack on the Twin Towers, innocent and honest muslim citizens were arrested along with the people of my religion, Sikhism. What was their fault? That they looked alike? They wore turbans? They had beard? Sure minorities were at war, but generalizing that everybody was a part of it was wrong.
Just a “pseudo-apology” like the one given to White wasn’t enough. The basic trust on society, the feeling of being safe and being treated equally without any stereotypes, was shattered into tiny pieces. No apology, no compensation can ever rectify the damage it caused to the mind, to the soul of those people. Many sikhs had to cut their hair under the threat of being caught, and hair is our, us Sikhs’, identity. A little mistake in judging people, can lead to huge damages to the people and the society as a whole.
Prejudices still continue to exist, the eyes still look for differences, and judgmental attitude still breaks down the believes of people. White lost all his faith in the ideals, the believes he had faith in since his childhood. The followers of Sikhism, had to turn their backs to the God in order to be able to live up with the racist society. It’s sad but true, people are denied from their rights, are treated unequally. Racism still grows its roots down into the minds of people, and leaves the society divided. Unequal. Inhospitable.