30 Years After His Passing, James Baldwin Is Still The Voice Of The People
The definition of timeless.
October 04, 2017 at 7:53 pm
"What white people have to do is try to find out in their own hearts, why it was necessary to have a n*gger in the first place, because I'm not a n*gger. I'm a man. But if you think I'm a n*gger, it means you need it. If I'm not the n*gger here, and you white people invented him, then you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that."
Writer James Baldwin spoke these words during an interview alongside Dr. King and Malcolm X, led by Dr. Kenneth Clark in 1963. The conversation series titled "The Negro and the American Promise", was centered around the current state of race relations in America. 55 years later and his words are still as pertinent as ever.
Last year, Colin Kaepernick chose to be a human first and an athlete second. He chose to take a knee during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality and the unlawful treatment of Black and colored people in America.
In light of the unwarranted and quite dramatic rant from our 45th President in front of an Alabama crowd of white faces, where he instructed NFL team owners to “get that son of a b*tch off the field” should players choose to kneel during the National Anthem. He explained that the gesture is “total disrespect of our heritage” and “everything we stand for”.
What do we stand for, exactly? Inquiring minds would like to know. What does America stand for? Unfair treatment? Racial hierarchy? As a result of his ignorance, athletes have decided to push back at the blatant disrespect and lack of empathy of what taking a knee represents, sparking an increase in participants of the movement. Typical of Trump to overlook the significance of the protest. And typical of white America to shift the focus away from Black men being gunned down, to a protest against the United States military.
“When a white person picks up a weapon and demands freedom, white people are quick to applaud him. When a black person does the same, white people don’t hesitate to criminalize him.” (James Baldwin, The Dick Cavett Show, 1968)
If freedom, family, and opportunity weren't enough, white America is now trying to take oppression from us as well. Dear Black People: We can't speak out against oppression because it's offensive to the oppressor. Weird.
Where would we be without the courageous acts of Black people in power who didn't hide behind fear and intimidation? Muhammad Ali wasn't afraid to look Michael Parkinson in the eye and educate him on the “some white people” defense. Baldwin sat adjacent from a white philosophy professor to break down the reality of being Black in America. After seeing the unfair portrayal of blacks in the media and lack of government support in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Kanye West wasn't too far gone to express that “George Bush doesn't care about Black people” in front of millions of viewers.
These men were people first and foremost. Before the fame and endorsements, they were Black men and it came down to which mattered most and who needed them most.
"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. Part of the rage is this: it isn’t only what is happening to you, but it’s what’s happening all around you all of the time." (James Baldwin, The Negro In American Culture, 1961)
White people are afraid of the advancement of black people in America. We weren't freed from slavery and given the tools to survive in this country. We were "freed" and left to fend for ourselves. Right before their eyes, we've become business owners, authors, doctors, lawyers, even the President of the free world. We got them shook.
The words of Baldwin are a literary reminder of where we were 50 years ago, and how far we still have to go as it pertains to addressing the race issue in this country. Yes, Black people to use their platforms to spread awareness and speak out on injustice. We have always, and will continue to do so. But, in order to implement change, we have to challenge the privileged citizens in this country to take a look at the deeper issues and digest the real history of America and the history of the people in it.