Richard hesitates to engage in the thievery rampant among the hotel workers because he does not consider it worth the risk of being caught. He acknowledges, however, that racism encourages such theft, as whites would rather have a dishonest, uneducated black worker than an honest, educated one.
Eventually, Richard changes his mind and decides to steal so that he can raise money to move North, reasoning that living honestly would merely prolong his stay in the South. He leaves his job at the hotel and takes one at a movie theater, where he helps his coworkers steal two hundred dollars by reselling tickets. Burning to leave the South, he steals a gun from a neighbor and pawns it for money. He then resells some fruit preserves that he has stolen from a nearby black college. With this money, Richard goes to Memphis. His stealing pains him, and he vows never to do it again.
In Memphis, Richard rents a room from a black woman named Mrs. Moss. She delights Richard with her kindness and generosity. It immediately becomes clear that, although she has just met him, she wants him to marry her daughter, Bess. Unaccustomed to trusting people, Richard feels stunned and slightly disgusted that Mrs. Moss can so wholeheartedly accept and trust someone she barely knows. Moreover, Bess is not attractive to him; he finds her childish and dull.
The next morning, Richard meets another young black man while sitting on the waterfront. They find some bootleg liquor hidden in a patch of weeds and decide to sell it. A white man says he will give them five dollars for the liquor if they will move it to his car. Richard feels uneasy, but the young black man appears more than willing, and Richard assists. The black man leaves Richard to get change for the five-dollar bill so they can split it, but he does not come back. Richard is annoyed with himself for not realizing that the black man and the white man had been working together and had used Richard to help them move the illegal liquor.
Richard’s inability to meet his family’s expectations throughout the early parts of Black Boy foreshadows the inability to show humility before—and thus avoid confrontations with—the whites that he displays in these chapters. The fundamental source of Richard’s difficulties with his family is his inability to obey their orders: he can never submit to his family’s demands that he humble himself to their authority, so he receives violent beatings as punishment. Here, we see that Richard has similar trouble hiding his pride and judgment in the presence of whites, which results in similar negative consequences. To paraphrase his friend Griggs, Richard’s problem is that when he is around whites he acts as if he does not notice that they are white. He does not bend over backward to humble himself as whites expect him to, and, consequently, he reaps violence. The burst of violent racism in Chapter 9 may startle us, but it fits with the already established pattern of Richard’s family life.
Mr. Crane symbolizes how even well-meaning whites commit subtle acts of racism. At first glance, Crane appears sensitive toward Richard, and when push comes to shove he shows compassion, asking Richard genuine questions about how he was terrorized, giving him more money than he is due, and repeatedly saying that he is sorry about the whole situation. The fact that Pease and Reynolds can only terrorize Richard when Crane is out of the office implies that Crane would defend Richard. At the same time, however, Crane shows signs of the typical white superiority complex in relation to Richard. He makes Richard wait a full half-hour before speaking with him just because he wants to peruse the mail. He also shows his lack of understanding by remarking that life in the South is tough not just for Richard but for himself as well. Though Crane may indeed have a rough time controlling the racial turmoil in his factory, and may face some criticism from fellow whites for his sympathy toward blacks, his troubles cannot begin to compare with Richard’s problems. Crane is unable to do anything to help Richard beyond apologizing and giving him some extra cash. While these are undeniably kind gestures, they merely attempt to compensate Richard for enduring racism instead of trying to redress the racism itself.