Friday, December 1, 2017

Baldwin and Race Relations in America

The American writer, poet  and civil rights activist James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room} died thirty years ago today, and what he said about race relations in the USA is, hauntingly, still true today. In the PBS Newshour replay (on Feb 2, 2017) of a 1963 interview with him, Baldwin notes “I’m terrified at the moral apathy ---of the death of the heart--- which is happening in my country. These [white] people have deluded themselves for so long, they really don’t think I’m human.” 
Dissociated from our ‘not-me’ parts, projecting unwanted parts onto the Other, we view the Other as less than human (e.g. the historical, economic motivation to hold black slaves and to count black men as 3/5ths of a person; women were not counted). I imagine that these parts of self that later must be disavowed were originally unwelcomed by caregivers, such that we became ashamed. Treated by parental figures as less than fully human subjects with agency seems more likely to cause us to dehumanize others in turn. Baldwin had eight younger half-siblings and was treated harshly by his stepfather, and outside his impoverished home, he felt the crush of a racist society.

In the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” -- directed by Raoul Peck about Baldwin, based on his writings, Baldwin notes  “What white people have to do is try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place. ‘Cause I am not a nigger. I am a man.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love that last quote by Baldwin. Thank you Lycia for sharing this.