‘That the Indians were you!’
An astonishing speech by James Baldwin (see video below).
NB: I have one issue with this video, and it’s these words:
‘Until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the American Dream because the people who are denied participation in it, by their very presence, will wreck it.’
These words do not to justice the very cause this speech defends. They sow the seeds of retribution, revenge, fear. Those on the receiving end are not invited to reflect on and reform their ways. (They are, but then the video takes a turn, resorting to a veiled threat.) They are told that their dream — for whatever it’s worth, warts and all — will be wrecked, and this, as a concluding statement, doesn’t do justice to the cause of a just and open society, such as Baldwin envisions for America.
Being an outsider myself, a migrant in the minority — a Cypriot in the UK, the US, and Continental Europe — for most of my life, and having delved into the cause of black Americans (I’m no expert, but I have an informed opinion on the subject matter) I can say with assurance, and with all due respect, that veiled threats have their place in political and cultural struggles, but that they should be used sparingly, always subject to scrutiny and revision, lest they damage the cause they serve.
I can also say with great certainty that what the WASP-Catholic-Christian establishment in America fears most — based on the books I’ve read, the documentaries and movies I’ve watched, and the people I’ve spoken to over the years — is the retribution it will suffer in the hands of its former slaves should these slaves or their offspring get enough power in their hands to run the show.
One has to take this into account, if one fights for a juster world. Telling the establishment that the American dream will be wrecked by the very presence of those it has systematically excluded and exploited, as it were, is a reaction both fair and expected, if not true to some extent, but it fuels suspicion, paranoia, fear. It doesn’t make it easier for the reformists among the rulers to sway the rest of them. If justice — and not retribution — is what the American black seeks, then retribution should not be used to conclude one’s calls for reform. (Something that all minority movements might keep in mind, if they wish to make a lasting change — if they wish to avoid being crushed again — if they wish to prevail without perpetrating a holocaust of their own.)
Plenty of food for thought in that last paragraph.
And yes, there was a veiled threat in it.
It didn’t feel good, did it?
In fact, it may have undermined the entire message. (NB: The ironies of postmodern writing. This piece is designed to emulate what it criticizes so as to make its point, and it does so at the risk of not making its point. Bizarre, right? All the same, such is the piece, written with irony, folded twice, for effect.)
For the full debate (an overall breakthrough cultural achievement by Baldwin), see below: