Richard Wright’s Outsider, Negroes & Flying Saucers

He jerked to attention as a wave of guffaws rose from the crowd of Negroes in the rear of the cafe. Most of them were young and they were bent double with mirth. A tall Negro lifted his voice with loud authority over the rolling laughter.

"Where there's lots of rumors, there's bound to be some truth in 'em," he pronounced.

"You mean to tell me you believe Flying Saucers are real?" a short, brown boy demanded with indignation. "You got better sense than that!"

Cross had heard a hundred such arguments in bars and cafes and he was primed to relax and listen to yet another one, to see to what heights of fantasy it would soar.

"I say these white folks is hiding something," the tall Negro maintained, "and what they're hiding scares 'em!"

"And what're they hiding?" the waitress asked.

"Things they don't want you to know," the tall Negro said cryptically.

Teasing laughter full of suspense went from man to man. Cross could feel that they wanted to believe this high mystery, but they needed more fantastic facts before their beliefs could jell. Their attitude was one of laughing scepticism underscored with seriousness.

"Know what they found in one of them Flying Saucers?" the tall man demanded. "One of 'em was full of little men, about two feet high, with skin like peach fuzz—"

A waterfall of laughter showered in the cafe. Men rose and stomped their feet, tossed back their heads, and bellowed.

"But what the white folks so scared about?" someone asked. "Little men can’t hurt nobody."

Silence. All eyes were turned expectantly to the face of the tall man.

"THEM LITTLE MEN THE WHITE FOLKS FOUND IN THEM SAUCERS WAS COLORED MEN AND THEY WAS FROM MARS!" the tall man spoke in deep solemn tones. "That's why they hushed up the story. They didn't want the world to know that the rest of the universe is colored! Most of the folks on this earth is colored, and if the white folks knew that the other worlds was full of colored folks who wanted to come down here, what the hell chance Wwould the white folks have?"

Screams of approval, leaping from chairs, and clapping of hands.

"You ought to be shot to think of a thing like that!"

"It fits in with the way white folks act!"

Laughter died slowly. The men wiped their months with the backs of their hands, gazing at one another with sly joy.

"But it could be true," a man said soberly. "White folks in America, France, England, and Italy are the scaredest folks that ever lived on this earth. They're scareda Reds, Chinese, Indians, Africans, everybody."

"But how come you reckon they so scared?" an elderly man asked.

'Cause they're guilty," the tall man explained. "And guilty folks are scared folks! For four hundred years these white folks done made everybody on earth feel like they ain't human, like they're outsiders. They done kicked 'em around and called I ‘em names . . . What's a Chinese to a white man? Chink-Chink Chinaman with pigtails down his back and he ain't fit for nothing but to cook and wash clothes. What's a Hindoo to a white man? A nigger who's in love with ghosts, who kisses cows and makes pets of vipers. What's a black man to a white man? An ape made by God to cut wood and draw water, and with an inborn yen to rape white girls. A Mexican? A greasy, stinking rascal who ought to be worked to death and then shot. A Jew? A Christ-killer, a cheat, a rat. A Japanese? A monkey with a yellow skin . . . Now our colored brothers are visiting us from Mars and Jupiter and the white folks is sweating in a panic—"

Negroes rolled in laughter, feeling that the powerful white world had been lowered to their own humble plane by the magic of comic words. One black boy danced ecstatically then, holding his hands over his mouth as though he felt it unseemly to vent his savage mirth indoors, ran out of the cafe, leaving the door open. Upon the snowy sidewalk he screamed and howled and flapped his arms in the icy wind. For a moment he paused, then ran back to the door and, gasping for breath, said:

"Man, that's sure cool!" He lifted his eyes to the grey sky. "You colored brothers on Mars, come on down here and help us!"

Cross found himself joining in the laughter. His heart went out to these rejected men whose rebel laughter banished self-murder from his thoughts. If only he could lose himself in that kind of living! Were there not somewhere in this world rebels with whom he could feel at home, men who were outsiders not because they had been born black and poor, but because they had thought their way through the many veils of illusion? But where were they? How could one find them?

SOURCE: Wright, Richard. The Outsider (1953). Restored text: Works. Volume 2. Later Works: Black Boy (American Hunger); The Outsider. New York: Library of America, 1991. (The Library of America; no. 56) Excerpt from Book One: Dread, pp. 395-396.

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