Shame is the result of feeling guilty, inadequate, improper, dishonored, or disgraced. This distressing emotion can stem from external sources like those around us or internal sources like our conscience.
In the story “Shame,” Dick Gregory recounts his encounters with shame, both externally and internally motivated. The shame he faced as a young child stemmed from external sources. Prior to the incident at his school, Gregory had an innocent perspective and was oblivious to social disparities. Although he acknowledged his impoverished status, he did not fully grasp the extent of his differences from his classmates.
At home, I never acquired feelings of hate or shame. It was only in school that those emotions were introduced to me. The teacher’s act of humiliating me in front of my classmates and peers shattered my innocence and replaced it with a deep sense of shame. By pinpointing my poverty and the absence of a father figure, she disgraced me, leading to the emergence of shame within me for the very first time.
Gregory expresses the prevalence of shame in his surroundings. Shame is evident in various situations, such as attending the Worthy Boys Annual Christmas Dinner.
Wearing the brown and orange and white plaid mackinaw provided by welfare was shameful for 3,000 boys. It was also humiliating to ask for rotten peaches, a spoonful of sugar from Mrs. Simmons, or to eagerly await the arrival of the relief truck. Gregory had never experienced shame until this particular event.
After feeling shame, Gregory’s behavior transforms, leading him to avoid attending school, taking detours through alleys to avoid encountering familiar faces, and even hiding inside his house when the relief truck passes by on the street.
In the beginning, Gregory is shamed by his teacher, which is embarrassing and disheartening for him. As the story progresses, Gregory feels ashamed because of his own conscience. This happens when he witnesses a wino without money in a restaurant and decides to pay for his meal. Unfortunately, the restaurant owner violently assaults the wino, causing him to bleed.
Gregory recognizes the wino’s humiliation and relates it to his own past experiences in school, where his teacher embarrassed him. At the moment Gregory offers to pay for the wino’s meal, it’s already too late and he feels shame from his own conscience and guilt. Present-day children still endure society’s shame imposed upon them. For instance, if a student with reading disabilities is asked to read a story in front of the class, they will undoubtedly experience humiliation and embarrassment.
Less coordinated kids in gym class, students with learning disabilities, individuals belonging to minority races, and teenagers with physical deformities all experience feelings of inferiority and second-class treatment. In gym class, less coordinated kids are often chosen last for sports teams, which can lead them to feel inferior to their peers. Similarly, students with learning disabilities are frequently placed in lower-level classes, causing them to feel inferior to their classmates in higher education classes. Additionally, teenagers with physical deformities feel ashamed due to the way others perceive them.
Unfortunately, individuals who possess unique qualities are still subjected to societal criticism. In addition, today’s youth often experience internal shame influenced by their own moral compass. Adolescents frequently observe their peers being targeted for bullying, and if they choose to disengage without intervening, they may be burdened with a sense of remorse.
Every time we encounter a homeless person seeking food, we experience a sense of remorse for not providing assistance. This sentiment is also felt by children nowadays, who feel both shame and guilt when they neglect to include individuals who are different or excluded. Shame can have both negative and positive effects. When people are subjected to external shame due to their differences, it results in humiliation, defeat, and failure.
Internal shame, despite being unpleasant initially, encourages individuals to develop personally and become more self-aware.