ABC Tried to Bury This James Baldwin Interview. Four Decades Later, It's Blisteringly Relevant.
By - AngelaMotorman
One of my husband's friends came over from the US to visit us a few years ago. He is a tall black guy in his 60's. He was amazed that no one seemed afraid of him over here. Which we found really odd. Who in the right mind would be afraid of a elderly guy who is dressed really nice, and is clearly well educated? But he said people often avoided him when walking on the streets in the US. Which again we found super odd.
Edit: We live in Norway.
I highly recommend reading this essay -- Stranger in a Strange Land by Baldwin. It has to do with his experience as a Black man in Switzerland. Colonialism is complex and has its hands everywhere, in my opinion.
I suspect that in 1955 about 99,999% of Norway's population had never seen a black person. Ever. My grandmother still recalls the first time she saw one, on a bus in 1970. Do black (or brown) people experience racism in Europe? Most definitely. Ask any Gypsy or Jew, who's family has lived in Europe for hundreds of years. And even more so the people who moved here the last 40 years, and their children and grandchildren. But I would argue that racism looks slightly different over here. A black British guy we know just couldn't get a job in Norway, in spite of being very qualified for the positions he applied for. Because companies tend to hire white looking people speaking the language perfectly. As one example. But I think they rarely see fear in people's eyes when passing them on the street.
That was a great read. Is their anywhere I can lookup more first hand accounts like this? Would love to read more from African Americans experiencing Europe or even Asia.
I'm not sure of anything off the top of my head. I'd suggest looking into essay collections from other top Black writers of the 20th century. James Baldwin lived all around Europe and the US, and I doubt that he's the only one who did so!
I will. Through my own googling I found a YouTube channel called Voices of the Past. Fascinating channel. Thanks for the tips.
Live in Sweden and I watched a interview with this black American dude who I think was going to school here, and the first thing he said was something to the effect.
The police don't fuck with me here, hell they'll even try to help me.
Some foreign looking people do experience racism from the police, even in Norway. But the general population will not cross the street to avoid passing you on the sidewalk in broad daylight. That was the puzzling thing about his experience. He is elderly, so what are people in the US expecting him to do to them? Hit them with his umbrella?
I've noticed middle Eastern Muslim immigrants get the most racism. Worst thing one of them has done to me is make me a bad pizza. But ya, I feel like the Swedes are generally good at minding their own business and avoiding confrontation.
Some of the worst racism I ever saw on display towards black people in New York City came from recent immigrants. Maybe not your family, or you, but neighborhoods of Italian and German immigrants, in Queens, especially, harbored entrenched attitudes that they were in some way more worthy and deserving of the American dream than African Americans in place who had lived in the area for over a century or more.
I heard the ugliest epithets from these folks. And the common refrain was that neighborhoods which were settled by blacks were ruined by blacks.
When they were ruined by poverty.
Many of us still live with legacies of slavery and it's helpful to try and understand that if you want to understand the sweep of American history and the American identity in a more holistic way.
E pluribus unum.
This makes me sad to hear and sadder that people do this. Thanks for saying this
Thanks. My family, both sides, have been on soil since the 1600s: slaves and slave owners, Pilgrims, and we're Native American (Cherokee, Lumbee), so also longer than that. This country remains fascinating to me, if endlessly frustrating, in her complexity, and it may be my own dooming, but I will go down with the ship. Like to visit Canada, though!
He’s not talking about you specifically, he’s talking about systematic and ingrained racism that exists in the fabric of our society. To say “this doesn’t apply to me so I’m offended” is totally missing the point. Try to look at things from perspectives other than your own.
That's why it's called white fragility. A black person expresses how they're treated by white people and white people like you get pissed off and take it personally... then you call the other side racist for bringing up their experiences with racism from white people.
If you're not racist then cool, but being offended by other people's experiences with it is insane. Not being able to talk about other white people being racist is white fragility and yours is showing.
Also i personally believe you are at least a little racist by how god damn triggered you are. Seems like you're projecting to me. "I know you are, but what am I" kinda shit.
As a white guy, when someone tells me that another white person or groups of white people were racist to them I simply listen and agree with them that racism sucks. Not that hard. Doesn't effect my day in the slightest because I know I'm not one of those people
As an adult you should know that some things are generally true at a population level, but can be very hit-or-miss when applied to the individual. Think BMI, etc.
You should also know that you moved to a country with a really complicated racial history (being a white person from Africa, this shouldn't be foreign to you) and that when people are speaking on these problems you may not be the intended audience.
Thanks for the first response that wasn’t hateful. Your comment about being an adult is petty though. I agree with your second point. I’m just presenting a point of view, my personal one, that differs obviously from everyone else’s. And like K said in men in black, a person is smart, but people are dumb, panicky dangerous animals
In my opinion, my response was only reflecting what you put out. You presented an opinion that took something said in 1979 and essentially removed any historical context from it. If you had something like, "My family and I, who are 'white', moved here from Africa in \[x year\] and I don't feel like this accurately reflects our point of view. That being said, this sort of stuff makes me uncomfortable because it puts me in an adversarial position when I feel like that is not who I am" people would have likely responded differently.
I also get that the aggressive responses may have been off-putting for you, but these issues affect the people I love so I am sensitive to them. My friends couldn't do half of the things I did as a kid without getting bothered/arrested by the cops, so unfortunately this is not an area I can discuss without an emotional charge.
**Edit:** I'm not trying to tell you that you're a terrible person or anything, but more so that this a topic that people have super strong feelings about because they can see the effects throughout the lives of those they love or themselves. If you are wanting to come into the topic you're likely gonna have to understand that the responses will be heated as any saying of "this isn't actually true" is discounting people's general lived experience.
>They know they would not like to be Black here
This seems like its probably still accurate though.
You think systematic racism stopped being a thing in US after WW2? And he's not talking about individuals here, he's talking about the social order of US. An immigrant family if they're white would be more privileged compared to black families that were there in US, they would not be stigmatised because of their skin colour, they would not be bereft of educational, occupational opportunities for it either this is because the society determined and still determines status and privilege according to skin colour . That you take it personally when he's clearly talking about the systematic issue of the society shows that guilt operates in you unconsciously, however much you deny it.
So, your family benefited from a system that was designed to help 'white' people succeed but you don't feel anything? Imagine if your family had been in this country for centuries, they worked endlessly and without pay to build major parts of this country and yet could not generate wealth or pass anything on to their children? Does that honestly seem fair to you in your mind?
Do you think you'd at least be owed the fruits of your labor? Do you think you'd be owed what your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. had worked for? A good example that has gotten attention recently is the Tusla race massacre. Innocent people who had built up wealth and owned property were murdered and had everything stolen from them because of the color of their skin. Does that seem fair to you? What is fair in your mind?
You still benefit from the status quo and have to deal with the nation's history. Why take such personal offense?
My family moved to the US from E Europe in the 90s. We're benefiting from the exploitation of black people and the genocide of native Americans. Nothing wrong with learning, acknowledging that, and trying to make the world a more equitable place.
People are talking about systemic issues and are not singling you out personally.
That's some white fragility right there.
Ah, the age ole "BuT i'M nOt LiKe ThAt!! So iT mUsT bE wRoNg!!" argument...
Some White people got the same treatment in America.
Irish and Italian and the like, but this is because our definition of white has changed in the last 200 years.
I wouldn't jump to say the "same" treatment. Bad, sure, but you can't compare a legacy of slavery to the experiences of non-Black people.
You are correct, my bad on the wording
Because “whiteness” is not a real ethnicity or race, just a tool for suppression.
Edit: in the middle of reading some early Baldwin. Also, check out Glaube’s Begin Again, he cherry picks some great Baldwin passages.
The sentiment expressed in the article isn't a shock to those who followed his work and his life. This is from a [1961 radio interview](https://www.npr.org/2020/06/01/867153918/-to-be-in-a-rage-almost-all-the-time):
"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time — and in one's work. And part of the rage is this: It isn't only what is happening to you. But it's what's happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most white people in this country, and their ignorance. Now, since this is so, it's a great temptation to simplify the issues under the illusion that if you simplify them enough, people will recognize them. I think this illusion is very dangerous because, in fact, it isn't the way it works. A complex thing can't be made simple. You simply have to try to deal with it in all its complexity and hope to get that complexity across."
Don't agree with everything he's ever said, but something rings true when he speaks and he does it beautifully.
The goal is never to agree with everything someone, anyone, says. The goal is to reach the truth.
I don't even agree with everything *I've* ever said.
Our own feelings and words can be a betrayal of of our own thoughts.
Even if you don't agree with the truth?
I would say especially if you don't agree with it. One of the reasons seeking the truth is a worthy goal is because if you find it and face it you are changed by it. Not only is your perspective on that subject changed, but facing up to the fact that you really believed something that isn't true and built your perspective of the world around it is a humbling experience that makes you a better person than you were before.
Id agree with that.
There are lots of things where "truth" is never going to be an absolute. Emotions and perspective have a large influence on experiences.
It's 2021. Just invent your own truth.
Greatest term coined during the trump era... Alternative Truths. Great for conversion with friends. Like "nah man it's an alternative truth"..... I have to laugh extra hard when someone actually tries to grab merit from it.
This is a strange standard. Is there someone with whom you've agreed on everything this person has ever said?
Figures of speech are a thing.
I always say that he writes/speaks with clarity of purpose. When you listen or read his work you get a real sense of his convictions and why he thinks that way. I wish I could express my thoughts like he could.
Miss his voice
For those interested in learning more. The article ends with this note.
>Lovett will discuss the 20/20 segment further on June 24 at 8:00 PM, when he moderates a free virtual panel titled James Baldwin: Race, Media, and Psychoanalysis, featuring psychoanalysts Annie Lee Jones and Victor P. Bonfilio, as well as Aisha Karefa-Smart, Baldwin’s niece. RSVP here to help Baldwin’s legacy live on.
There is a link in the text to RSVP.
Is this about a book or did I miss something?
So did you like it?
This is about an interview with an author who has written many books. Look him up. I personally have never read his work.
Should get on that. Baldwin is one of America's greatest writers.
Yeah, I'm not as well read as I'd like.
Maybe you could recommend one of Baldwin's books to Thelostarc. Seems like he wanted to know more.
Your being down voted for saying you haven't read his books?
This subreddit is clearly a toxic cesspool of human waste. Unjoined and won't come back.
Well it was just two down votes and it has resolved now. You can't put a lot of stock into a few down votes. Reddit is a fickle place.
Is highlighting a name and selecting search that hard?
I thought this subreddit was here to discuss books in general and authors. I don't feel my question was out of place.
No need to get upset
I think "tried to bury" gives too much force to what the article said ABC did. It implies a level of anathema to Baldwin that didn't exist. The article basically says that ABC didn't think it would be good TV so they didn't run it
They thought trump was good TV. Bad for America but great for the number of views media outlets would get. "Tried to" seems right.
Sadly Trump was good for ratings.
I'm pretty sure that ABC thought it would alienate its audience. I suppose one could say that's "not good TV" but I would not. The fact that it was not aired is itself a demonstration of white fragility. I believe that significantly more U.S. citizens today are comfortable with actual U.S. history than was true in 1979 but I also believe that ABC would not air the segment today for precisely the same fear of white fragility. There are still huge numbers of U.S. citizens and politicians fighting to ignore the realities of our history.
Name checks out
What an amazing man.
For those that seem to be missing the point here, this really isn't as complicated as you're making it out to be.
Keeping in mind that this is a quote from forty years ago, the discrimination and prejudice black people were subjected to were much more overt than today. James Baldwin had lived through some of the most tumultuous times in America for a black person and experienced every sort of denigration you could imagine first hand. Rodney King's beating wouldn't happen for another thirteen years, but Emmet Till's lynching, MLK's assassination, and countless other acts of racial violence and injustice, small and large, had been perpetrated during his lifetime.
So while your point of view as one of the people he's presumably talking about might *seem* well reasoned, get a fucking grip. He didn't draw these lines in the sand between the color of people's skin, that was the world he was born into and fought against. To say that he was racist for harboring disdain towards those that had built and perpetuated this world of black and white is as ridiculous as the notion that your wounded sensibilities have any place in this conversation.
Having said all that, what Baldwin was trying to convey was this: since before the creation of the United States, practically every black had been sentenced to an onerous existence within the confines of a society that'd been built to keep them down. In their hearts, it must be evident for anyone looking from the outside in at this experience that being black was, and honestly *is* a more difficult thing than being white. Yet, even knowing this, many will deny the divide that still lies between the equity of these experiences, along with the need for further change.
What would be a good book to start with to learn more about him and his views? I am embarrassed to say I know little to nothing about this man.
Don't be embarrassed! The fact that you're trying to broaden your horizons is commendable, and that's all that counts.
You can't really go wrong with any of his books, I'd say it more comes down to what interests you. *Giovanni's Room* is great if you think you'd enjoy a fictional account of a gay man grappling with his sexuality, it's a great drama.
*Go Tell It On The Mountain* is a similarly gripping tale, though it's focused on a young black man in Harlem and is based on his own life. It's a bit slower.
*The Fire Next Time* is another one I'd recommend, along with *Notes of a Native Son* if you're more drawn in by prose and a more direct exploration of his beliefs on race, religion, sexuality, and American society. They're both collections of essays on his perspective, but both are very worth reading.
Am I in the wrong subreddit or something? This is r/books, and you've linked to an article about an interview from 40 years ago. There are no books involved at all.
There are subs for this content, and unless I'm mistaken this ain't one of them.
James Baldwin is literally one of the most famous American authors of all time. You're really trying to argue that discussing an interview with a highly influential author doesn't belong on a subreddit for books?
Is the interview about books? Doesn't seem like it.
"This is a moderated subreddit. It is our intent and purpose to foster and encourage in-depth discussion about all things related to books, authors, genres or publishing in a safe, supportive environment."
For someone so supposedly invested in discussing books, you sure do seem to have trouble reading. I wonder, would you have complained if the subject were a JK Rowling interview instead?
Yeah, if it's not actually related to books. What kinda question is that?
We could all go and post loads of the political opinions of whatever author we want. But we wouldn't have a book subreddit anymore, we would just have a politics via author's subreddit. That would be stupid.
If the author's entire body of work is intrinsically tied to their experience as a black man in America, how is this not relevant? I'd be interested to hear what Tolkien had to say about religion, or what Hunter S. Thompson had to say about government. *This* is what he wrote about. Nothing else. His most famous works are literally essays about his views on society.
You're splitting hairs in a way that's both pedantic and whiney, and frankly the sub's own sidebar comes down pretty clearly in my favor.
But yeah, thanks for sharing your opinion. Feel free to go off a bit more if you think it'll help your blood pressure.
Tell me you don’t get it without telling me that you don’t get it🙄
Pretending to not understand things is very "in" right now.
in the 1970s and 1960s, what he was describing was pretty much the case
(Last comment couldn't edit on phone so remade also made shorter)
Based on the post I dont think the op of the comment knows exactly what's going on or where the article is coming from.
Projecting at is finest form you achieved my friend.
Now take what you feel, and imagine if he was making the laws and hiring police.
My experiences and the mindset i had to read them are flawless and all others individuals are experiencing the same thing in the same way that i did. You know i am a genius after all.
- James Baldwin
Am i missing something? There is no video or interview link on that page?
The Vimeo video is smack in the middle of the article.
Ah, not outside the US apparently