“Our white is so white you can paint a chunka coal and you’d have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn’t white clear through.”

Lucius Brockway makes this boast to the narrator in Chapter 10. The narrator has taken a job at the Liberty Paints plant, and Brockway is describing the properties of the “Optic White” paint whose production he supervises. This quote exemplifies Ellison’s use of the Liberty Paints plant as a metaphor. In both Ellison’s descriptions of the paint-mixing process and the relations between blacks and whites in the company, the Liberty Paints plant emerges as a symbol for the racial dynamics in American society. The main property of Optic White, Brockway notes, is its ability to cover up blackness; it can even whiten charcoal, which is often used to make black marks upon—to spoil, in a sense—white paper. This dynamic evokes the larger notion that the white power structure in America, like the white paint, tries to subvert and smother black identity. Prejudice forces black men and women to assimilate to white culture, to mask their true thoughts and feelings in an effort to gain acceptance and tolerance.