January 15, 2021

James Baldwin called it

James Baldwin, 1924-1987. Image by way of wikipedia.

 I recently came across a quote from the late great Black intellectual James Baldwin that really seems to be relevant to the moment we're living it:

"An identity is questioned only when it is menaced, as when the mighty begin to fall, or when the wretched begin to rise, or when the stranger enters the gates, never, thereafter, to be a stranger: the stranger’s presence making you the stranger, less to the stranger than to yourself."

It seems to be the case that many Americans who strongly self-identify as "white" these days and in recent years are distressed because the superior position they previously took for granted like a fish does water is no longer unchallenged and are responding with rage and paranoia. 

In an essay titled "On Being White and Other Lies," Baldwin also spoke of those who "have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white." He continued:

"Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers. Because they think they are white, they are looking for, or bombing into existence, stable populations, cheerful natives and cheap labor. Because they think they are white, they believe, as even no child believes, in the dream of safety. Because they think they are white, however vociferous they may be and however multitudinous, they are as speechless as Lot's wife—looking backward, changed into a pillar of salt."

Recent events have shown where this kind of thinking leads.  

1 comment:

David Blair said...

A fine post, Rick. Arnie Alpert told me about your blog. I live in NH and have worked with Arnie on and off for almost 40 years. Another friend, Jim Rentch, lives in Morgantown. Jim was a community organizer with me in eastern Kentucky in the early 70s. We did a lot of work on black lung. Jim then became a coal miner, and after that studied forestry, got his doctorate and taught at the university in Morgantown. He's retired now and still into all of this! Do you know him? jrentch2@wvu.edu


David Blair