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James Baldwin asks ‘How are white Americans so sure they are white?’
12.04.2014
09:52 am

Topics:
Literature
Politics
Race

Tags:
James Baldwin
Dick Gregory


 
In 1963, James Baldwin wrote two essays that examined the role of race and racism in the history of America. Published in The New Yorker, Baldwin’s first essay, written in the form of a letter to his fourteen-year-old nephew on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation explained “the crux of [his] dispute with [his] country”:

You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.

Baldwin developed his historical and political analysis in his second essay in which he described his own experience of religion, criticising both Christianity and Islam as being culpable in maintaining ethnic division and oppression—where the white oppressors had attempted to destroy black men and women:

...the truth about the black man, as a historical entity and as a human being, has been hidden from him, deliberately and cruelly; the power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions. So every attempt is made to cut the black man down—not only was made yesterday but is made today.

Baldwin’s essays proved so popular and influential they were collected and published book form as The Fire Next Time later the same year. This book placed Baldwin as one of the major figures in the American civil rights movement of the 1960s, and as one of the greatest public intellectuals of the twentieth century.
 

 
In 1968, along with comedian and activist Dick Gregory, James Baldwin gave a talk at the West Indian Student Center in London, where he and Gregory discussed the American black experience in relation to the Afro-Caribbean experience in Britain. The seminar was documented by a young filmmaker Horace Ové, who filmed the proceedings and later edited the footage into a documentary called Baldwin’s Nigger (1969).  Though there is nothing special in the way in which Ové filmed the meeting (mainly in a flat, news-report style), it is the content of what each participant said, in particular Baldwin, that makes Ové‘s film so important, as he had fortunately captured an important debate and conversation between Baldwin, Gregory and the audience about ethnicity, identity, politics and racism at a crucial moment in world history.

Baldwin began by talking about a visit to the British Museum where he got in conversation with a West Indian man who asked the writer where he was from.

I told him I was from Harlem. That answer didn’t satisfy him…
“Yes,” he said “But man, but where were you born?”
And I began to get it.
“Well,” I said, “My mother was born in Maryland, my father was born in New Orleans, I was born in New York.”
He said, “But before that where were you born?”
And I had to say, “I don’t know.”

Baldwin went onto explain why he doesn’t know—for his ancestral entry into America was by a “bill of sale, which stops you from going any further.”

But Baldwin wasn’t interested in just offering personal historical context of the black American experience, he also asked provocative and difficult questions about white ethnicity and the complex relationship between all Americans:

White men lynched negroes knowing them to be their sons. White women watched men being lynched knowing them to be their lovers… How are white Americans so sure they are white?

The point is racism damages everyone.

In light of the institutionalised racism exposed by the Michael Brown fiasco in Ferguson, the killing of Eric Garner in New York and the rise of racist and xenophobic politics across Europe and the Middle East, Horace Ové‘s film of James Baldwin and Dick Gregory is necessary viewing.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Letter to the President’: Snoop Dogg tells the history of Hip Hop, Rap and Politics

letter_to_the_president
 
Ronald Reagan, that evil fuck President who willfully destroyed working class communities to give tax breaks to the rich. Reagan was happy to do it so long as it was African-Americans that bore the brunt.

Reaganomics left half the Black population on welfare. Reagan had no conscience about it. He had a money lust which hit hardest on those who were weakest and least able to fend for themselves.

Stopping poverty wasn’t on Reagan’s tick list. Rather it was cut corners and take, take, take from the poor - which stooped as low as having the tomato base on pizzas reclassified as fruit to ensure he could slash the cost of school dinners. He even tried to do the same with tomato ketchup but failed.

Reagan’s policy was simple - if you were poor: fuck you. If you were sick: fuck you. If you were dying of cancer: fuck you and get a goddamn job.

For young African-Americans in the 1980s, it seemed the hard-earned achievements of the sixties’ Civil Rights movement had been too easily betrayed and forgotten. And when crack cocaine hit the inner cities, it seemed any hope of a future was gone.

Against this background arose a culture of music that was to redefine Black America. Hip-Hop and Rap reflected the poverty, despair and violence of life in the ghettoes. It also railed angrily against the indifference and cynical exploitation by successive Presidents, whose only interest was to help themselves and help the rich.

Letter to the President is a fascinating over-view of the rise of Hip-Hop and Rap, and their importance in bringing a community together against a common enemy. Narrated by Snoop Dogg, and with contributions form Quincy Jones, KRS-One, David Banner, 50 Cent, Chuck D, Ghostface Killah, Nelson George, Sonia Sanchez, and Dick Gregory.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Legends of comedy: Interview with Dick Gregory and Paul Mooney

Gregory and Mooney
 
San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop media/political activist Davey D recently brought together veteran comedians Dick Gregory and Paul Mooney for an interview on his OLMNews show. The result is a rare treat of an hour with two of the fucking funniest septugenarians ever.

Most of us recognize Mooney from his “Ask a Black Dude” and “Negrodamus” skits from Chapelle’s Show, but the man’s work goes way back. Before those appearances, he was best known as Richard Pryor’s writer for albums like Live on the Sunset Strip and Bicentennial N****r, and Pryor’s two TV shows in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Mooney also wrote for Good Times, Sanford and Son and In Living Color, for which he created the character of Homey D. Clown.

By intertwining his political activism with his comedy, Gregory became the pre-eminent black comedian that boomers could call their own. After sweating it out through the ‘50s on the black club circuit, Gregory got his first break appearing at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club in Chicago in 1961. He released a dozen albums and a clutch of books throughout the decade before putting his career on hold to dive into advocacy for a ton of causes and eventually a Presidential run for the Freedom and Peace Party. He’s recently made a welcome comeback onto the stand-up scene.

Watching these two conspiratorially minded cats is a pure joy, especially with Mooney’s infectious laugh in the air. Topics include: Obama and change; King Kong and In the Heat of the Night; stereotypes & minstrelsy; Bruce Lee and Sarah Lee; the Oscars and Denzell Washington; Herman Cain and the Federal Reserve; Snow White & child labor; Men in Black, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and shape-shifting; Jimmy the Greek; Christians, guilt & the Eucharist in the black church; black spending power; and “white folks are nervy.”
 

Thanks, Doug Pagan!

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment