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Shared on May 22, 2020 at 1:30 pm

Racism and Discrimination in “Fences” by August Wilson

In society today, people create metaphorical fences to shelter and protect their energy, while others create literal fences in order to keep the unwanted negative energy away. Naturally we as a human race feel the need to protect ourselves and go into defense mode once something detrimental happens. Some people create barriers to keep people out...and other people create barriers or in this case fences to keep people in. Fences by August Wilson gives the insight to a black family that must deal with insecurities of a husband and father due of his own struggles battling racism and discrimination during the 1950s. Racism as a whole has led to sabotageable behavior, fictitious denial, self-created illusions, and an overall horrible feeling especially in the minds of the affected people which affects both the individual and their families critically. The meaning behind the fence in the play in many ways is defined by its domination and mocking of the criticism caused by the division and painful infliction by white power. During the play, we observe how Troy is forced to define his world in terms of how it’s limited by a racist and discriminatory system of predominantly white and economic power.

What is discrimination and racism? Discrimination is defined as the unjust treatment of people or things in regard to race, age, or sex. Racism is defined as discrimination directed towards someone of a different race. “Although racial discrimination in interpersonal interactions is typically conveyed through discriminatory practices and behaviors, it is considered a specific and unique form of discrimination.” (Beatty Moody, Danielle L., et al) In Fences, Wilson aims to point out the variations between races more than the monocultural ideal of sameness. I chose racism as the theme because a lot of the plot is built off the strength of Troy experiencing racism in his baseball career and currently on his job as a garbage collector. Because he has experienced so much hurt from racism, he feels it is responsibility to make sure his youngest son Cory doesn’t end up getting let down by society like he did.

In Act 1: Scene 1, we learn that Troy works at a predominantly white sanitation organization where he describes his frustration on the discriminative hiring practices by his employer where whites are hired to drive the garbage trucks, while blacks are limited and given the harder and dirtier job of hauling the garbage cans as garbage collectors. “I went to Mr. Rand and asked him, “Why? Why you got the white mens driving and the colored lifting?” Told him, “What’s the matter, don’t I count? You think only white fellows got sense enough to drive a truck. That aint no paper job! Hell, anybody can drive a truck. How come you got all whites driving and the colored lifting?” he told me to “take it to the union.” Well, hell, that’s what I done!”. By him expressing his feelings towards management not allowing colored men to drive, he was asked to go speak with the union or in today’s society corporate. It has been proven that there is an underline privilege white people especially white men receive in the workplace that causes tension among the workers. During this time, segregation between blacks and whites was at an all-time high and this same behavior was the main conflict that took a toll on Troy’s life.

When Troy first bought his house, he went to Herzberger to purchase new furniture. Despite having a song emphasizing no matter your credit state you were still able to purchase, the salesman at the store tells him he does not qualify to purchase any furniture because he lacks credit even with his steady income. Days later, someone from the same furniture store comes by his house and knocks on his door, offering to sell him furniture but at an exorbitant interest rate—something now known as predatory lending. Blacks have become the leading victims of predatory lending. “Say if I miss a payment the devil was coming back, and it’ll be hell to pay.”

During Troy’s juvenile years he was an outstanding baseball player but faced a color barrier was not able to make it into the major leagues to fulfill his dreams. Although Troy knows he could have went the distance in baseball, he sees the fence in his real life as a confinement making the literal fence not only put him in imprisonment from his dreams but also confined him to deal with his guilt of not being able to anything about it. “If they got a white fellow sitting on the bench . . . you can bet your last dollar he can’t play. The colored guy got to be twice as good before he get on the team. That’s why I don’t want you to get all tied up in them sports. Man on the team and what it get him? They got colored on the team and don’t use them. Same as not having them. All them teams the same.” According to New York Amsterdam News, the Major League Baseball still lacks the diversity of black athletes. “As the end of this decade rapidly approaches, and 71 years after Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier, African-Americans are a distinct minority on the field, in the dugout as managers and in front offices across the league’s 30 teams.”

Wilson’s play Fences brings an introspective view of the world and of Troy family. Racism played a very distinguish role in Troy’s life but more importantly it had been the energy behind his extreme actions that made him bias and judgmental with the decisions for himself and his family. As Troy reflected on his past trials and tribulations, the play shed light on how racism affected the mental and physical lives of him and his family. Being black is not exactly an achieving phenomenon. Racism as a whole will led to sabotageable behavior, fictitious denial, self-created illusions, and an overall horrible feeling especially in the minds of the affected people which affects both the individual and their families critically.


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