I was looking at some YouTube videos of James Baldwin. In two, both interviews, he kept returning to a question he felt whites needed to answer to solve the race problem, or the historical mistreatment of blacks by whites on these – for blacks – foreign shores.
“Why did you create a nigger?” Baldwin stares into the camera to ask white viewers. Why was it necessary? “I’m not a nigger, I’m a man,” he notes. So you couldn’t be talking about him. Who are you talking to? “You’re the nigger, baby,” he says in one of the interviews.
I’ve read Baldwin a bit. When he died years ago, I was really saddened. He wrote some great scenes in his novels, but overall, I wasn’t that crazy about them. And that play “Blues for…” whatever, I thought was a first or second draft. It’s his non-fiction that shines. He remains the best political – hell, and literary – essayist this country has ever produced. I must have come across his searing question for whites – frankly, it was they for whom he wrote, trying to, well, save them – in one of his insightful essays. But it stuck more seeing him say it.
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The question – if I may name-drop with a Great One— – brought to mind a question I’ve thought whites should answer if we are to have honest racial dialogue in this country (assuming, that is, we just have to talk). What do they see when they see us?
(Not surprisingly, I like Baldwin’s observation more. Mine’s too open-ended. Baldwin’s boxes them in with their own creation.)
I thought of the Negro League baseball players and the off-the-record games they’d play occasionally back in the apartheid day against white players, often white stars. The black players sometimes won. Those whites had to see a, say, Josh Gibson as one of the greatest players ever. Did they mention this when their racial brethren were naming others as greatest? Did a white catcher feel guilty – did he feel…anything – when the media were calling him the best? And then there were some who refused to play against the black players since they were so naturally inferior and stuff though that didn’t explain why that sub-human had better eye-hand-coordination to produce a naturally sweeter wing than yours – and got better results from it. I guess it was easier to say they’re not really humans at all and that a trained ape could probably hit farther than Gibson. But that still doesn’t explain – again, not satisfactorily – why he’s still better at that about which your very existence is celebrated.
This reasoning seems to work for Bibi and other war criminals (although one suspects not for very long) who justify oppression of others by saying that it’s not about land grabs and the systemic humiliation of the others but that those others are, uh, just so darn inferior. You know?
You’re reading this in a likely warm place with the lights on and with food to carry you over to the next paycheck, at least. Not everyone can make that claim. Many globally – more than a few in this country – live in abject squalor. So you’re, in a sense, “lucky.” You have an edge. You’re in a country rich enough where even its poorer people have more than a lot of people in other countries.
Now, the case could be made that a lot of that wealth was not so much generated from great business acumen but from might. Who wants to hear that? People don’t give up edges easily. Better to dwell on the grief of the losers since so much of it, as we all know, is self-imposed.
But I’m speculating.
As you know, Trayvon Martin happened again.
Only this time, he has another name: Jordan Davis.
Another young brother killed by a hyper and likely racist non-black.
Or, in America, another day at the office.
The Davis killing was in Florida too. I’m not going to get into the Stand Your Ground law the new shooter will probably use as his defense, as that weird little dude is using for killing Trayvon.
It’s not as if there was a moratorium on killing black youths without that outrageous statute. Or as if the killings don’t happen in states that don’t have Florida’s “law.”
Frankly, who among us is surprised?
Frankly, who among us doesn’t expect it to happen again?
We know the mental state of the perpetrators – the actual shooters and a society that has historically sanctioned the murders.
They’re clinically – and criminally – insane.
I’ve also had another question: What is a psyche of a people who have been successfully tagged the niggers? Is that where all the in-house “niggas ain’t shit” jokes come from? Does that explain the old color-caste system, or their rejection of their physical characteristics as attractive enough?
What is the psyche of a people who, well, expect the slayings or maiming and desperately hope and pray that the next one isn’t one of theirs?
Can it be said they’re normal? Are they crazy too?
May I pose another question?
What’s in this for us?
A new Mercedes? A better chance to live in central heat and air? A chance to win the multi-million lotto?
We can’t think the trade-off is worth it.
So what are we thinking?
What, more important, is the plan to get on up from under this?