Perhaps the most important parallel between the two Wes Moores—even more significant than their shared name, age, and birthplace—is the fact that they are both black. This creates a bond between the two men that endures even though almost everything else about their lives is in stark contrast. At the same time, the two men do not share the exact same ethnic identity; whereas Wes is entirely African-American, Moore’s mother and grandparents are immigrants from the Caribbean. Joy’s family are thus more obviously “outsiders” to American life, and Moore describes his mother’s studied efforts to integrate into American modes of behavior. On the other hand, both Moore’s parents are college graduates, and thus experience less of the marginalization that results from being poor, non college-educated African Americans like Wes’s family members.
Although Moore does not necessarily focus on racial injustice explicitly in The Other Wes Moore, it is a theme that runs throughout the book. Moore notes that though Johns Hopkins is only five miles away from his and Wes’s homes, “it might as well have been a world away.” The lack of opportunities and resources in both their lives (and particularly in Wes’s) is undoubtedly fuelled by the impact of racial discrimination, which Moore hints at by referring to the impact of poverty, drugs, and cuts to public assistance on both his Baltimore neighborhood and the part of the Bronx in which his mother grew up. Similarly, Moore details many moments in which he and Wes are subject to racially-charged police brutality.
One of the passages in which Moore addresses racial inequality most explicitly is in his description of his visit to South Africa. He notes: “It was obviously a far more egregious situation, but I could sense faint echoes of Baltimore and the Bronx in the story of these townships,” thereby highlighting the fact that the United States is afflicted by the same problems of stark racial segregation and inequality as South Africa, even if they may seem less apparent on the surface. It is in South Africa that Moore is also confronted with a new image of his own racial identity. His host, Mama, explains that in South Africa he would be considered “colored,” not black, due to his light skin. This realization—alongside Moore’s awareness of even more drastic poverty in South Africa than what he witnesses in Baltimore—suggests that all inequality and injustice is flexible and relative, even if it works according to similar logic and intersects all over the world.
Race, Inequality, and Injustice ThemeTracker
Race, Inequality, and Injustice Quotes in The Other Wes Moore
Johns Hopkins University was only five miles from where Mary grew up, but it might as well have been a world away. To many in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins was the beautiful campus you could walk past but not through. It played the same role that Columbia University did for the Harlem residents who surrounded it, or the University of Chicago did for the Southside. It was a school largely for people from out of town, preppies who observed the surrounding neighborhood with a voyeuristic curiosity when they weren't hatching myths about it to scare freshmen. This city wasn't their home. But after completing her community college requirements, Mary attempted the short but improbable journey from the neighborhood to the campus. Her heart
jumped when she received her acceptance letter. It was a golden ticket to another world.
The walls and floors were coated with filth and graffiti. Flickering fluorescent tubes (the ones that weren't completely broken) dimly lit the cinder-block hallways. The constantly broken-down elevators forced residents to climb claustrophobic, urine-scented stairways. And the drug game was everywhere, with a gun handle protruding from the top of every tenth teenager's waistline. People who lived in Murphy Homes felt like prisoners, kept in check by roving bands of gun-strapped kids and a nightmare army of drug fiends. This was where Tony chose to spend his days.
I was becoming too "rich" for the kids from the neighborhood and too "poor" for the kids at school. I had forgotten how to act naturally, thinking way too much in each situation and getting tangled in the contradictions between my two worlds. My confidence took a hit. Unlike Justin, whose maturity helped him handle this transition much better than I did, I began to let my grades slip.
Later in life I learned that the way many governors projected the numbers of beds they'd need for prison facilities was by examining the reading scores of third graders. Elected officials deduced that a strong percentage of kids reading below their grade level by third grade would be needing a secure place to stay when they got older. Considering my performance in the classroom thus far, I was well on my way to needing state-sponsored accommodations.
From everything you told me, both of us did some pretty wrong stuff when we were younger. And both of us had second chances. But if the situation or the context where you make the decisions don't change, then second chances don't mean too much, huh?
I found in hip-hop the sound of my generation talking to itself, working through the fears and anxieties and inchoate dreams—of wealth or power or revolution or success—we all shared. It broadcast an exaggerated version of our complicated interior lives to the world, made us feel less alone in the madness of the era, less marginal. Of course, all that didn't matter to my mother. All she knew was that I could effortlessly recite hip-hop lyrics while struggling with my English class.
I had to let this one go. I had to look at the bigger picture. My assailant was unknown, unnamed, and in a car. This was not a fair fight, and the best-case scenario was nowhere near as probable as the worst-case scenario. If I was successful, who knew how the fight would've ended? If I failed, who knew how the fight would've ended? I thought about my mother and how she would feel if this escalated any further. I thought about my father and the name he chose for me.
"I think so, or maybe products of our expectations."
"Others’ expectations of us or our expectations for ourselves?"
"l mean others' expectations that you take on as your own."
I realized then how difficult it is to separate the two. The expectations that others place on us help us form our expectations of ourselves.
"We will do what others expect of us," Wes said. "If they expect us to graduate, we will graduate. If they expect us to get a job, we will get a job. lf they expect us to go to jail, then that’s where we will end up too. At some point you lose control."
"Fuck God," he said, drawing in a lungful of smoke. "If He does exist, He sure doesn't spend any time in West Baltimore."