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“The Goophered Grapevine” and the Ignorance of White Privilege

Literature 420: Senior Seminar for English Majors
by

Nicholas Sabia

on 7 November 2012

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Transcript of “The Goophered Grapevine” and the Ignorance of White Privilege

“The Goophered Grapevine” and
the Ignorance of White Privilege By Nicholas J. Sabia White privilege Coninued... Victim of Circumstance? Works Cited White Privilege In his short story “The Goophered Grapevine,” Chesnutt demonstrates through the use of African folklore how the ignorance of white privilege allows whites to dominate over African Americans. “White privilege” provides dominant members of society with social rewards and benefits (Tyson 378).

The white couple's prerogative, is to utilize Uncle Julius to gain potentially helpful information that will aid them in their decision to buy the vineyard or not: “Well, I dunner whe’r you b’lieves in cunj’in er not,—some er de w’ite folks don’t, er says dey don’t,—but de truf er de matter is dat dis yer old vimya’d is goophered” (Chesnutt 690). He suggests the land is cursed and it is against Christianity to believe such a notion. Curses are black and “…black symbolizes evil and white symbolizes good…” and therefore, this association furthers the concept of white privilege because it allows white people to condemn Africans and African Americans for the color of their skin (Tyson 379). The black man in the story, Uncle Julius, utilizes African folklore to scare the white man from buying the vineyard he lives on. Lois Tyson, a literary critic, defines folklore as “The use of folk motifs [including] a wide range of character types and folk practices [used to create] a sense of continuity with the African and African American past” (386).

Tyson renders, “African and African American trickster tales ‘revolv[e] around behaviors designed to compensate for chronic shortages of material necessities [essential to] existence in a rigid social hierarchy’” (366). Uncle Julius knows that if the vineyard is sold he will lose his house on the property and his source of income from the grapes. Perceptively, the white man and his wife notice some of the vineyard still flourishes, and skeptical of the story question its validity. Uncle Julius renders, “Dey did ’pear ter die, but a few ov ’em come out ag’in, en is mixed in mongs’ de yuthers. I ain’ skeered ter eat de grapes, ’caze I knows de old vimes fum de noo ones; but wid strangers dey ain’ no tellin’ w’at might happen. I wouldn’ ’vise yer ter buy dis vimya’d” (Chesnutt 696). Unfortunately for Uncle Julius this plan fails and the white man buys the property.

"I bought the vineyard, nevertheless, and it has been for a long time in a thriving condition…I found, when I bought the vineyard, that Uncle Julius had occupied a cabin on the place for many years, and derived a respectable revenue from the neglected grapevines…I believe, however, that the wages I pay him for his services are more than an equivalent for anything he lost by the sale of the vineyard" (Chesnutt 696). While the white man does let Uncle Julius continue to live on the Vineyard, he also suggests he takes advantage of Uncle Julius' blackness by underpaying him.

White privilege allows him to pay Uncle Julius whatever he thinks is fair because there is not equal opportunity laws that specify you have to pay African Americans the same wages as their white counterparts.

Uncle Julius foresaw this happening and dubs the white man “master” at the end of the story (Chesnutt 696). The white man accepts this title because he provides Uncle Julius with shelter and pays him for his work. Unfortunately, this title depicts how little society has changed since the civil war and illustrates the white man’s selfishness and greed for cheap labor. Unable to buy the vineyard for himself due to extraneous circumstances Uncle Julius attempts to scare the white folk from buying the land. Unsuccessful, however, Uncle Julius becomes the victim of “interest convergence” which Tyson renders, “…[is] common…because it often converges , or overlaps, with the interest—[of] something needed or desired—of a white individual or group” (371).

Interest convergence, also know as “material determinism," affects the way whites practice racism.

Since the vineyard is extremely valuable, the white couple purchases it because they see its potential: “I bought the vineyard, nevertheless, and it has been for a long time in a thriving condition, and is referred to by the local press as a striking illustration of the opportunities open to Northern capital in the development of Southern industries” (Chesnutt 696).
Chesnutt, Charles W. “The Goophered Grapevine.” the

Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Julia

Reidhead. New York: Norton and Company, 2007.

689-96. Print.

Tyson, Lois. “African American criticism.” Critical

Theory Today A User-Friendly Guide.

New York: Routledge, 2006. Print. Since the positives of buying the vineyard outweigh the negatives, the couple acquires the land. Upon doing so they exploit Uncle Julius for his cheap labor.

“Differential Racialization” allows governing society to define the racial characteristics of minority groups in different ways throughout history to suit its fluctuating needs (Tyson 375).

As the white man was not able to enslave Uncle Julius, he takes advantage of the man’s situation and keeps him on as a hired hand. He knows that Uncle Julius will not refuse the opportunity because the color of his skin makes him virtually unmarketable for any other job. Therefore, Uncle Julius is forced into taking a low paying position because white society continues to utilize racism to their advantage.
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