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Solving America’s Race Crisis According to James Baldwin

I believe the solution to America’s problem of race is somewhere in between Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin—Suns of [the] movements—and what white people must finally acknowledge and ultimately accept.

Today in 2015, America is at a racial crossroads. As I type this entry, Black churches are up in flames in different places throughout South Carolina, less than one week before this post, President Barack Obama eulogized the pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Pastor Clementa Pinckney, as he and 8 other parishioners lost their lives as a result of a racist, 21-year old gunman who opened fire during a Wednesday night prayer circle in Charleston, South Carolina.  In a little less than two weeks from the time of this post, members of the Ku Klux Klan will march in solidarity against the removal of the Confederate Flag from South Carolina’s State Capitol Building.

It’s 2015.

On June 24th, 1963, City College Psychology Professor Dr. Kenneth Clark, in separate interviews, brought three of the most brilliant contempory minds the world has ever seen to discuss the race crisis in America. This one-hour special program was called, “The Negro and the American Promise.”

When opening the program, Dr. Clark offered the following to stimulate the viewers’ minds for the intellectual treats of Malcolm X, King, and Baldwin:

“By all meaningful indices, the Negro is still, and unquestionably, the downtrodden, disparaged group, and for a long time was systematically deprived of his dignity as a human being. The major indictment of our democracy is that this is being done with the knowledge and at times with the connivance of responsible, moderate people who are not overtly bigots or segregationists.

We have now come to the point where there are only two ways that America can avoid the continued racial explosions. One would be total oppression. The other, total equality. There is no compromise.”

Both Dr. Clark and Baldwin believed the future of Blacks and the future of America were linked–Baldwin said they were, “indissoluble.” When asked whether he was pessimistic or optimistic about this future, this is in part how James Baldwin responded.

“But the future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people and our representatives — it is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face, and deal with, and embrace this stranger whom they maligned so long.
What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.
The question you have got to ask yourself–the white population of this country has got to ask itself — North and South, because it’s one country, and for a Negro, there’s no difference between the North and South. There’s just a difference in the way they castrate you. But the fact of the castration is the American fact. If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him, you, the white people, invented him, then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question.”

For the full text and footage of James Baldwin’s interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark, click here

Happy 90th Birthday James Baldwin!

Have you ever wondered what an unapologetic life looks like? One needs to look no further than to the poetic, critical, and requited life of Mr. James Baldwin, affectionately known by his loved ones as “Jimmy”.

He is  a world treasure!

James Baldwin Photo from biography.com

James Baldwin
Photo from biography.com

Had Mr. Baldwin not succumb to the esophageal cancer that conquered his physical body on December 1st, 1987, he would be sitting with us wearing his bright, bold, uncommon, gap-toothed smile, perhaps holding a cigarette and sharing some insightful words of wisdom amongst friends.  His words would probably be a critique on the ways in which our nation has progressed racially, or not. Never one to tire of an economic, social and political commentary on the ways of the American and international world, I imagine that Mr. Baldwin’s billowing words would eventually recess and retreat into his mind to be picked up later, as he analyzes whatever nature landscape has appeared in his midst.

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” ~James Baldwin

I only wish that as a high school and college student I had been more exposed to this literary force of more than 25 works and this phenomenal American man. Equally, I only wish that my birth would have intersected the times sooner so that I would have had the chance to meet him, speak with him or simply catch a glimpse of this beautiful man through the lens of a disposable camera.

BaldwinRecently, during my time at Yale, I was researching in the Beinecke Library, Yale’s repository of rare books and manuscripts, to sift through James Baldwin’s papers like an archaeologist on an archaeological dig.  What I found was a man, a thinker, an archivist, and man who doodled!  On his time-stained, brown-paged manuscripts he doodled pictures of women, perhaps taking a break from the complexities of his mind by trying his left hand at an understated hobby–drawing. and, also on these pages, he recorded his life and structured conversations for us to continue having with the hopes of transforming America into a better nation of laws, people and mores.

 “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” James Baldwin

Just writing about him makes me share my own bright, gap-toothed smile as I think about the way he has impacted my thinking and opened my being to what it means to live an unapologetic life.  James Baldwin was an immaculate writer and superb wordsmith, but what I will always admire the most about him is the way truth escaped through his full lips and into bitter and sweet air, never to be lost in time because he recorded this truth on the pages of his books, it was woven into the couches of talks shows and captured on the reels of tape.

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.” James Baldwin

Happy 90th Birthday Mr. Baldwin!