Richard Wright’s “Uncle Tom’s Children” is a collection of novellas which, like his full length novels/autobiography do an excellent job capturing the black experience, and employment is no exception. One of the experience related in the novellas can be summed as follows: Young black man hired by a friendly enough white person who promises him opportunities for growth within the company. He works hard but is purposefully kept from meaningful work that would lead to the sort of experience that would be marketable elsewhere. He then specifically asks for it. His pleasant enough work environment then becomes hostile, he does not receive what he asks for and after multiple assaults upon his person, dignity and psyche he is fired, only to receive a “you should have known better” attitude from the black community and, needing to eat, immediately begins the process over again. This is not the most obvious comparison between Richard Wright’s work and Hoodie. Wright thoroughly describes the dangers of being out in a white neighborhood after sunset and that is the crime for which her older brother, Bruce, is lynched. But what about Brandon?
Before we can even get to the subject of Brandon’s job we must first acknowledge that he commits the same age-old sin being in a white neighborhood after dark in order to run an errand for his boss. But why is Brandon even subordinate to his boss? Well, we know that he went to law school, we know that things didn’t work out, and we know he’s in his particular situation because his boss is also his best friend’s brother. But the brothers do not get along. This is more than a simple referral.
Aziz, Brandon’s boss and Yousri’s brother, for all his faults is very good at leveraging relationships to get ahead. He knows he has a security clearance because of his wife’s relationship with Lord Kaine. He also knows that whatever happened at Brandon’s firm it could be leveraged if need be if Brandon ever became difficult to control. Aziz is also a master emulator. He wants to create in Brandon what Lord Kaine has in him, but with more capability and a shorter leash. This is of course frustrated when Aziz is humiliated outside of his home in front of his neighbors.
We don’t know exactly how Brandon dies yet, we just know that by the time Lilly is well-trained she has indeed lost her other brother as well. We do know however that Brandon’s death is a very different sort of tragedy. Again there are the obvious optics – Bruce was a child, murdered by a civilian. Brandon is a grown man. Also to the protagonist, losing a brother is losing a brother whether he’s president or a plumber. But what have we lost? We know Brandon is brilliant and even more importantly we know that despite Brandon’s experience at his law firm which we can speculate was similar to the Richard Wright trope of the 1920’s/1930’s, he shows no sign of “keeping his head down” or “feeling lucky because he has a job.” His spirit is unbroken.
There are only two things you can do with a person like this – the first option one sees in individuals like Clarence Thomas or Ben Carson. You appeal to their ego and one of the basest human desires which is to believe they exist in a world that has some kind of underlying fairness and order. You then hoist them up a pedestal and promise them the world if they will just lend their voice to an already deafening chorus of lies about what is possible for 99% of people. One allows this rare individual to get closer than ever before, so long as they can be used to keep the others out.
Or you can kill them.