The Personal Effects of Widespread Social Issues in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

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August Wilson’s highly acclaimed play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is set in Chicago in the late 1920’s. The main character, Ma Rainey, is an African American blues singer, and she is managed by a white music producer named Irvin. Levee, the youngest of four band members, takes on a surprisingly dominant role in the play. Anyone can open a history text book and learn about the general social issues that were present in the early nineteen hundreds. Wilson takes this history lesson one step further, and shows his readers the affects of these racial issues on a personal level. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom shows how the disrespect and exploitation of young African Americans in the music industry can either lead to empowerment or downfall.
Although legislation that forbade racial discrimination was passed in the late 1800’s, African Americans were still disrespectable by white people, especially of authoritative or high-ranking positions. When Ma Rainey and the policeman explain the accident to Irvin, the officer does not believe the car is Ma’s. She repeats firmly that it is hers, and she paid for it: “That’s what you say, lady. . . We still gotta check” (Wilson 50).The police officer insults Ma when he assumes that a black woman like her cannot possibly own a car. It is disrespectful for the white officer to put limits on Ma Rainey’s capability and wealth simply because of her race. When the band is eating together, Toledo delivers an interesting speech: “See, we’s the leftovers. The

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