Racism and Gender issues in the United States: A Case study of “Men we Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward

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The book "Men we Reaped" by Jesmyn Ward

The book “Men we Reaped” by Jesmyn Ward is a memoir of deaths of a number of African American men that belonged to the lower social class. Black men in Mississipi and DeLisle were victims of racism and violence. Police brutality against the blacks was discriminating and unacceptable. According to the story Ward vividly remembers five young men namely Ronald, Roger, Joshua and Demond close to her who lost their lives within a short span of time. Among them was Ward’s brother Josh who was hit by a white man and disappeared from the scene. Attempts to seek for justice fell on deaf ears. Josh’s life was cut short given that he had a promising career ahead of him. These men struggled to make their lives better but died unfairly in the hands of the ruthless racists who got away with murder. The author arranged her memoirs nicely by entangling images of the past, present and the future. Having been educated in a white private school, Wader struggled to make it in life hence the aspect of gender roles is displayed. The subject in this essay features on the theme of racism and gender issues as analysed by the author (Ward, 2013).

The subject of racism in South America

The subject of racism is presented in every chapter of the book showing how black men and women are affected in South America. Ward seems to have vivid memories of past experiences where by boys and girls got into depression and resorted to drugs and alcohol. The boys and girls were longing to be free from the poverty and racial discrimination surrounding their lives. The hopeless situation led to human suffering hence people took solace in drugs and crime. Institutions of learning failed to contain the pressure of racism that claimed the lives of young black youth and ripped them of their future. Ward managed to reveal how racism and economic imbalance affected and impacted on her family negatively. As she reflects on the life, Ward only advanced gender issues that have been recently published. This book was published at a time when features and discussions on the media talked about discrimination, racism and inequality among black men (Ward, 2013).

The misfortunes faced by the blacks

Ward places herself in the lives of the poor and oppressed in the deep rural South America. The misfortunes of the blacks in this book are tearing and saddening. The reader is challenged to consider what should be done given the institutional mistakes experienced. Towards the end of the book, Ward explains how her mother’s experiences inspired her to writes the narrative that says: "Hello. We are here to listen.” This information gives courage and determination to the black people both men and women to speak up. Through this publication, the reader is forced to listen since it is deep and emotional.

The tragic deaths of young black American men

Tyson Anderson was shot in the head at Southside of Chicago. Anderson was only aged 18 years when this unfortunate incident happened to him. When reporters came to interview witnesses the following day, a woman said she “was happy that her 14-year old son was locked up in jail since it was much safer than to exist in such a dangerous neighborhood.”The community surrounding the blacks is not safe hence such is what they are accustomed to. The fact that young boys as old as 10 years are jailed worries and shows the extent to which the situation was serious. Murder was the higher cause death for young black American men under the age of 24. Ward tries to link the deaths happening in a span of four years among boys who were close to her.”The community surrounding the blacks is not safe hence such is what they are accustomed to nothing.”

The emotional impact of the book

The happenings in the book are scary hence it is not fit for a light-hearted person. The images of suicide, drug overdose, shootings and two car accidents are overwhelming for anyone reading. The two tragic deaths from the accidents are linked to the breaking up of Ward’s parents. The divorce left her isolated and confused not knowing how to cope. She says.“That’s a brutal list, in its immediacy, and it’s relentless, and it’s a list that silences people it silenced her for a long time.” Through her writing, she found voice to represent the oppressed through her writing. The neighborhood she grew up was in a mess with weed, cliques, drug addiction and alcohol readily available. Families experienced poverty, divorce and even deaths and detention. For instance, a 24-year old footballer from South East Texas who identified himself as gay had his 8 brothers killed and two others imprisoned. The death toll in one family is saddening and deafening.

The role of gender in the black community

Ward explains that after the death of his 31-year-old friend Demond Cook, she sat down with his widow reflecting “ I’m only 26… and I’m tired of this shit.”Mississippi gulf Coast was the place where the author spent the better part of her youthful life. The experiences there were engulfed in vulnerability of some sort. The memories here are devastating given that she had to gather around every time someone was killed, and they would share grief. One vivid memory is during Hurricane Katrina when CJ Martin was murdered in a tragic car accident. Ward describes that “we parked in the dark and people materialized out of the fog and woods and gathered until the sun rose, brought together by a third tragedy”

The impact of racism and gender roles

Racial discrimination in the United States prevented African Americans from accessing better education and the job market. Poverty led to high crime rate and moral degradation which paced the blacks in dangers of being imprisoned and killed by the whites who considered them defiant. Lack of representation at higher ranks made it hard for the blacks to access justice in courts. The hopeless situation made them vulnerable to racial discrimination. The story is narrated by the author basing it on his own personal experiences as she grew up. Ward’s parents divorced, his late brother involved in drug dealings while she suffered from dissolution and despair. Ward was lucky enough to have been educated by the white family her mother worked for.

The complexities of gender roles

The entire book is dominated by misfortunes of the black people. Gender issues are featured as part of complexities that black people went through. Female gender in the community is over protective of their own even though they are disappointed by their male counterparts. Jesmyn’s mother suffered a lot trying to bring her children up. Although she poses as a strong character, the tragedies in her life made her frail. For instance, her only son died, and her daughters struggled to make ends meet. The character displayed is that of hardworking persontrying to beat all odds to survive. Although she is devastated from the divorce, she is determined to make it. The men in the story are seen as reckless people with little regard for family. Ward’s father divorced her mother and started another family and ended up having other six children from two different women. The victims of murder presented in the story also depicted similar characteristics. For example Joshua was defiant boy who went to an extent of selling crack to survive. Ward recounted the times when his father was absent and her mother had to step in on behalf. The police were the most feared people in the community. Men literary run at the mere mention of their presence. The boy child was threatened and accorded less freedom (Ward, 2013).

The representation of gender roles

The most heart-breaking aspect of in the story is representation of gender roles. Wader once called his brother to help him with the house chores but received hostility from the rest of the boys. Ward says, “this is how my brother and I understood what it meant to be a woman: working, dour, full of worry. What it meant to be a man: resentful, angry, wanting life to be everything but what it was.”Although Ward was a gifted girl, she went through tough times as she struggled to make ends meet in the white community (Ward, 2013).

The emotional impact of the characters

The emotional impact evoked from the grief endured by the characters is serious. Later when Ward is travelling home from the university she mentions that “I hope nobody died this summer” the trauma experienced throughout her growing up seems to be replaying in her mind often. The power of her story is experienced from the beginning where several fatalities are brought forward from her past. Ward is Grieving and feeling unfortunate due to many tragedies she has endured in her life (Ward, 2013).

The themes of racism and gender roles

The book is about Ward's memoirs who happened to be the narrator of the story. The story is centered on the theme of racism and gender roles. Women in the black community are forced by circumstances to endure a lot in bringing up their children. Men seem to have given up hope and resorted to reckless behavior that expose them to crime, drugs and alcohol. The level of poverty faced by the black is contributed by poor education and access to amenities. Racism was a serious issue back them hence many crimes committed by the whites were overlooked. The story is structured based on the life of the author and the experiences she went through growing up. The situation was hopeless given than the doors of justice were shut. The blacks indulged into alcohol and drugs due to frustrations. The level of insecurity experienced by blacks made the vulnerable to racism and open discrimination. Ward's book is beneficial in encouraging blacks to write their stories as well. Expressing emotional distress through writing is relieving given that it serves as an encouragement to someone else facing the same issue. Today, the blacks still face challenges which can be traced back to the past happenings.


Ward, J. (2013). Men WE Reaped: A Memoir . A and C Black.

My experience as a writer

Writing is not only learned but achieved through imagination. Writing is a gradual exercise that gets better with time. I believe I am the best writer practicing and learning through mistakes. Writing to me comes naturally, but I believe through practice, I can be better. The session has been enjoying and this is what makes me want to be the best. My writing experience will not just end here, I am planning elevate it to another level. I believe in practice and determination everything is possible when effort is put it.

Learning is the beginning of acquiring knowledge and skills that can be applied later in life. Prolific writers out there began the same way and the secret is writing. Writers are known to be passionate of what they do. Ideas come from within and without. An idea can be built on through imagination hence there is no limit to what one can achieve through writing. Writers make it with keen interest to their environment since it is where inspiration is drawn from. I believe through learning and practice I can apply my imagination through. Creativity is the best tool used by writers to make a difference. A reader has to be lured by the content of a piece of work.

August 21, 2023



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