Maya describes numerous other instances of subtle black resistance to racism in these chapters. The black southern church is an avenue for subversive resistance. At the revival, the preacher gives a sermon that criticizes white power without directly naming it. His diatribe against greedy, self-righteous employers clearly attacks white farmers for paying miserable wages to black field labor. Movies and other popular culture of the 1930s disseminated terribly demeaning racial stereotypes of blacks. However, Maya’s secret joke in the movie theater allows her a kind of resistance against the movie’s negative portrayals of black people. Maya laughs in response to the Kay Francis movie because the white actress adored by the white audience looks like her mother, a black woman. Incidentally, at the same time that Maya delights in this irony, Bailey clearly suffers with longing for his mother. Just seeing her likeness sends him into a deep melancholy. The intensity of his feelings will eventually create a rift between him and Maya symbolized and foreshadowed here by his running recklessly across the train tracks and abandoning Maya on the other side.
Despite recognizing the personally empowering nature of these instances of resistance, Maya’s descriptions illustrate that such resistance rarely affects great change, even within the African-American community. Instead, such resistance often simply serves to save the black community from drowning in the desperation and despair that envelops them. Maya’s description of the symbolic meaning behind the boxing match between Joe Louis and a white challenger attests to the pervasive nature of racism in 1930s America. For Maya and the members of her community, Joe Louis’s victory is an empowering repudiation of the negative stereotypes heaped upon blacks. Underlying their joy, however, the desperate fact remains: Louis must bear the hopes and dreams of the entire black American community. White society prevented most forms of black advancement. Moreover, the few black Americans who did advance received little public attention for their achievements. When they did successfully garner public acclaim, role models and heroes such as Louis became figures that the black community relied upon for strength.
Unfortunately, Maya notes, sometimes those who practice subtle forms of resistance defeat themselves. The desperation in the Store during the fight attests to both the highs and the potential lows of the psychological resistance. Immediately after the revival meeting, the spiritually invigorated revivalists hear the people partying at a honky-tonk and bow their heads. Maya notes that the crushing realities of their daily struggles begin to replace their short-lived happiness. Both the sinners at the honky-tonk and the revival members share the same desire to shake off their troubles. However, the individual revival members only see the differences and suffer from despair. Rather than seeing the honky-tonk as another form of subtle empowerment, the church community sees it as a burden.