Brother Jack gave me a quick look. "Brother, you have heard of Ras? He is the wild man who calls himself a black nationalist.”
Brother Jack tells the narrator about Ras the Exhorter, a black nationalist from the West Indies who greatly disagrees with the Brotherhood’s actions. Brother Jack and Ras represent two very different kinds of leaders, and two ends of the movement’s spectrum. During this conversation, Brother Clifton arrives with a bandage on his cheek. We learn that the bandage covers an injury he received during a run-in with Ras and his boys.
“Mahn,” Ras blurted, “I ought to kill you. Godahm, I ought to kill you and the world be better off. But you
black, mahn.Why you be black, mahn? I swear I ought to kill you. No mahn strike the Exhorter, godahmit, no mahn!”
After a violent encounter with Brother Clifton, Ras describes how he wants to kill him but can’t kill a fellow black man. During the scuffle, the narrator gets pulled into the fray and Ras calls him Uncle Tom, critical of his willingness to work with white people. Ras’s hate for whites and blacks who work with whites fuels his violence, yet he resists hurting another black man.
“You black, BLACK! You—Godahm, mahn!” he said, swinging the knife for emphasis. “You got bahd hair! You got thick lips! They say you stink! They hate you, mahn. You African. AFRICAN! Why you with them? Leave that shit, mahn. They sell you out. That shit is old-fashioned. They enslave us—you forget that? How can they mean a black mahn any good? How they going to be your brother?”
Ras shouts at Brother Clifton during the fight in front of the check cashing business. He rants about his horror that black men would consort with white people in the name of social advancement. His ideas are radical compared to those of Brother Jack, and his ways are violent compared to the pacifist tendencies of his nemesis.
They betray you and you betray the black people. They tricking you, mahn. Let them fight among themselves. Let 'em kill off one another . . .To hell with that son of a bitch! He take one them strumpets and tell the black mahn his freedom lie between her skinny legs -- while that son of a gun, he take all the power and the capital and don't leave the black mahn not'ing.
Ras shouts at Clifton, revealing his thoughts about the women he refers to as
Ras is not ignorant, nor is Ras afraid. No! Ras, he be here black and fighting for the liberty of the black people when the white folks have got what they wahnt and done gone off laughing in your face and you stinking and choked up with white maggots.
As he shouts at Clifton, with whom he physically and verbally fights, Ras enumerates his virtues. He draws a vivid picture of his animosity at white people and his interpretation of how blacks have ended up at the bottom of the social order. In the next moment, he spits into the street and the narrator, an onlooker, calls Clifton away with the observation that Ras is full of black pus.
The Exhorter waved his arms and pointed, shouting, “That mahn is a paid stooge of the white enslaver! Where has he been for the last few months when our black babies and women have been suffering—”
Here, Ras confronts the narrator on Seventh Avenue in front of a large crowd. He accuses the narrator of being a traitor for working with white men to betray Africans. The narrator calmly tries to defend himself and the legacy of Brother Clifton, but Ras angrily calls him a liar. At this point in the novel, everyone seems to be turning against the narrator as his situation descends into chaos.
“The time for ahction is here. We mahst chase them out of Harlem,” he cried. And for a second I thought he had caught me in the sweep of his eyes, and tensed. “Ras said chase them! It is time Ras the Exhorter become Ras the DESTROYER!”
The narrator repeats what he hears Ras bark to a crowd on Seventh Avenue. Ras seems to be calling for the destruction of everything white in Harlem. The radical proposition will allow the narrator to slip into the shadows, a place he is destined to go, but first, he stops into the Jolly Roger, feeling as if he’s wearing a disguise. By this point in the story, the narrator has been mistaken for Rinehart, which contributes to him questioning his own identity.
They moved in a tight-knit order, carrying sticks and clubs, shotguns and rifles, led by Ras the Exhorter become Ras the Destroyer upon a great black horse. A new Ras of a haughty, vulgar dignity, dressed in the costume of an Abyssinian chieftain; a fur cap upon his head, his arm bearing a shield, a cape made of the skin of some wild animal around his shoulders.
The narrator describes seeing Ras during the looting in the race riot dressed as an African warrior. Soon after the narrator sees Ras, Ras throws a spear at him and misses. The narrator later throws the same spear back at Ras and pierces his cheeks. Ras calls the narrator an Uncle Tom and accuses him, again, of betraying his race.