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Posted under: Discover

Blavity must-read: James Baldwin on race, guilt and responsibility

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In 1970, Margaret Mead (famous anthropologist and public intellectual) sat down with James Baldwin (poet, writer and voice of his generation) for a conversation on power, privilege, race, gender and justice. Brainpickings.org resurfaced their transcribed conversation, A Rap on Race, highlighting it for its timeliness and relevancy today.
"The ideas with which these two remarkable minds tussled in 1970 had emerged, unsolved and unresolved, to haunt and taunt us four decades later with urgency that can no longer be evaded or denied."- Maria Popova (brainpickings.org)
Brainpickings does an amazing job at fossilizing this brilliant conversation into a multi-part series. I encourage you to read in its entirety here.
The first installment of the series is on guilt and responsibility. It's particularly fascinating and struck a deep cord with me because of my constant struggle with feeling both indebted to solve and helpless about the issues facing our community. As Mead and Baldwin discuss the Birmingham Bombings, Baldwin makes a point that leaves Mead bewildered:
BALDWIN: The police in this country make no distinction between a Black Panther or a black lawyer or my brother or me. The cops aren’t going to ask me my name before they pull the trigger. I’m part of this society and I’m in exactly the same situation as anybody else — any other black person — in it. If I don’t know that, then I’m fairly self-deluded… What I’m trying to get at is the question of responsibility. I didn’t drop the bomb [that killed four black school girls in Birmingham]. And I never lynched anybody. Yet I am responsible not for what has happened but for what can happen.
As Mead and Baldwin continue to debate ideas of guilt and responsibility, Baldwin insists that although he is not guilty for the murders that took place in Birmingham, he does see himself as responsible for them.
BALDWIN: A man’s life doesn’t encompass even half a thousand years. And whether or not I like it, I am responsible for something which is happening now and fight as hard as I can for the life of everybody on this planet now.
Baldwin's outlook is inspiring to say the least, and reminds us that we might be struggling with the same questions we face today 40 years from now. But that should never interrupt our pursuit for justice.
Visit here for more on this insightful and painfully applicable conversation.


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