Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Sunday, October 19, 2008

James Baldwin to White Racists--Know Your History: The Pain You've Brought to Others, to Yourselves

"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hates is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."
--James Baldwin
"James Joyce is right about history being a nightmare. But it may be that nightmare from which no one can awaken. People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them."

--James Baldwin

Today, the daddy is meditating on the anger that a certain core of white Americans have about Barack Obama, and the very real possibility that he, a black man, could be the next president of the United States. You can go on YouTube and hear them make all kinds of excuses ("I don't trust him." "He's Arab." "If he gets in, the blacks are going to take over." "This is a white, Christian nation, etc.). Deep down, they are racists; and, as racists, they balk at the thought that they, white people, who belong to a supposedly superior race, are being ruled by a person from a supposedly inferior one-- even if that person is only "half black."

After surfing and lurking around some white blogs, the daddy checked came across a great black blog called Aunt Jemima's Revenge. On it, the blogger, after venting her frustration with white hostility to the thought of a black U.S. president, said bluntly that some white Americans need to "take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror." The blogger is right of course, but isn't it easier for any of us to look at others than ourselves? And how can white racists look at themselves without bringing into their thought patterns the racist images, ideas and white supremacist values which lie so deeply embedded in their psyche? Aren't they, like all of us, in the final analysis (and with no pun intended here) "slaves" to their history?

To understand today, study yesterday

The most profound truth speaker on race in the late 1950's and 1960's-- and perhaps ever-- was novelist, essayist, social critic and political activist James Baldwin. When it comes to race, no one spoke more thoughtfully, or more eloquently, about both black and white America's failure to address race honestly so that it could one day transcend it. In an address at a black university, he said that, In America, the rich exist, the poor subsist, but none really live, because they stubbornly refuse to address their history: who they are and how they became to who they are. But it is in the essay "Unmentionable Names, Unspeakable Crimes" that Baldwin best addresses white racism.

Like the black blogger, Baldwin, too, says white America needs to take a good, hard look at itself. However, he said that what keeps them from doing so is guilt.

"Whatever they bring to one another, it is certainly not freedom from guilt...The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of old trees; and it can be unutterably exhausting to deal with people who, with a really dazzling ingenuity, a tireless agility, are perpetually defending themselves against charges which one has not made. One does not have to make them. The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky."

According to Baldwin, it is this guilt that keeps white America from looking honestly at itself, from addressing its history, and from seeing in that history the lingering racism of today. He states:

"The fact that Americans, white Americans, have not yet been able to do this- to face their history, to change their lives-hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world. For history, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On- the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously con- trolled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be other- wise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations...And it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize this. In great pain and terror, one begins to assess the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one's point of view. In great pain and terror, because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, oneself, and attempts to recreate oneself according to a principle more humane and more liberating; one begins the attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history."

The daddy should note here that Baldwin does not seem to be trying to make whites feel bad or guilt trip them. In fact, he seems empathetic toward whites who are caught up in a history based on violence and lies and, seemingly, their evident desire to rationalize or justify it, but yet refuse to examine that history more closely, a refusal that makes them appear pathetically "incoherent:"

"This is the place in which, it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence. This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues white Americans sometimes entertain with that black conscience, the black man in America. The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea: Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway, it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present on the middle passage. I am not responsible for the textile mills of Manchester, or the cotton fields of Mississippi. Besides, consider how the English, too, suffered in those mills and in those awful cities! I, also, despise the governors of Southern states and the sheriffs of Southern counties; and I also want your child to have a decent education and rise as high as his capabilities will permit. I have nothing against you, nothing/ What have you got against me? What do you want? But, on the same day, in another gathering, and in the most private chamber of his heart always, he, the white man, remains proud of that history for which he does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has profited so much."

Listen, the daddy harbors no illusion that white racists who attend Gov. Sarah Palin are going to rush to Barnes & Nobles, go right to the African American section and pick up either "The Fire Next Time" or "Notes of a Native Son," two books from which they could profit greatly. Though he believes that many white Americans have transcended racism, he recognizes that there will always be a core group of white American racists who, by refusing to look at history, will be left behind by it. But he also believes that those of us who do look at history, who have transcended white racist history, owe it to those who are even vaguely interested to let them know how we feel: to tell them a story, to point them to a source that, along with other events such as an Obama presidency, will, hopefully, help them to see that, ultimately, the greatest victims of racism may be racists themselves. After all, to be so racist as to choose to remain ignorant is surely to be a victim.

The choice to remain a victim is about more than not knowing about another race or ethnic group. That choice is, ultimately, about a decision to remain in a prison devoid of intellectual curiosity or interest in the rest of the world. History, after all, is not just about the history of any one particular group but all of humanity. People's historian John Henrik Clarke perhaps said it best:

"The Events which transpired five thousand years ago; five years ago or five minutes ago, have determined what will happen five minutes from now; five years from now or five thousand years from now. All history is a current event."

For white racists, for all of us, Baldwin's essay "Unmentionable Names, Unspeakable Crimes" may be a good place to start.


kid said...

Man as much as I bump into you on other blogs, I feel bad that I didn't come here.As Spike Lee said"I likes,I likes". I'm glad you put up a "good" photo of Levi Stubbs.Later.

Anonymous said...

Mr. MacDaddy, I have less faith than you have that white racist will change. I've read Baldwin. They haven't and never will. I'm a white guy with an African American wife. I'm not welcomed at family gatherings. I know they will never change. Sorry.

rainywalker said...

Many of the whites you talk about here get their information from each other, they do not read books. Some have never read a book in their life and many elderly in the hills never learned to read. They pass on information like an underground grapevine. They are stuck in a cycle that continues generation after generation and its hard to break out. I'm not making excuses for anyone I've just watched it all my life and they do not see things like we do. They look around at their friends and family, think the same, so they believe everyone thinks that way. They do not have open minds that except new ideas because their knowledge level may or may not be limited. They talk rasism around their own and occasionally let something slip in front of people that do not agree with them. I have brought up this subject many times and always end up hitting a brick wall, since all they have are their life experiences to make decisions on or have a conversation. This leaves them with limited knowledge, so they likely fall back on guilt when they hear the truth.

One Drop said...

Hmmmm, should I call you "Mr. Daddy?" Sounds kinda kinky, really, but so be it.

Excellent post, and I agree that Baldwin has quite a bit to say to white Americans, if we were inclined to listen. I wrote along these lines a while back at Too Sense:

"Don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that being white automatically makes one individually guilty of the crimes of the Bourbons, or the sins of the Klan. But we are connected to the events of the past. Our prosperity has grown directly from those events.

How much of the material wealth of the white community is connected to slavery? ALL OF IT. Yes. ALL OF IT. How so? Because the American colonies would have failed economically without slavery. The Virginia Company only became profitable with the cultivation of tobacco, and that required large amounts of labor. Slave labor. Profits from Tobacco kept the colonies afloat. Our political and cultural history is similarly tied to slavery, because the first law passed by the Virginia Colony's General Assembly related to the price of Tobacco, and the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of a good tobacco crop. Without slavery, no tobacco. without tobacco, no colonial economy. Without a colonial economy, no America.
America was born on the back of slavery. America expanded by the labor of slaves. The American export economy depended upon slaves (and, after the Civil War, continued to depend upon sharecroppers, who were former slaves). The wealth and power accumulated by the white community, the advantages enjoyed by the white community, all of it can be traced back to slavery. The house of white economic security, white privilege, was built on a foundation laid by slave labor.

Senator Obama cannot change that fact. He cannot undo hundreds of years of economic history. He cannot change social history. American wealth is not innocent wealth, and naming streets after slain civil rights leaders cannot make it so. The darker past cannot be eradicated by a brighter future.

So what are we to do? Are we confined by the sins of those who came before us? I don't believe so, any more than I believe that babies come into the world bearing the stain of Adam's sin. Many of us in the modern era did not commit the crimes of which I speak (I can't apply this to the remaining members of the pre-integration community, to those who fought for or agreed with segregation). But we must look at the objective historical record, and we must acknowledge the extent to which the legacy of slavery pervades our community. The indirect benefits we have received from slavery continue to matter, and we must accept that fact. The untold billions of dollars of accumulated capital derived from slavery continue to matter, and we must accept that fact. The hearts of our most cherished political and civic institutions were poisoned by slavery from the start, and we must admit that corruption. In short, we must see the past for what it is, not what we wish it to be. We cannot lock hands, sing "Kumbaya," and magically break free of the shadow of injustice. We must face the shadow, and own the shadow, for only in doing so do we have any hope of overcoming the shadow.

No innocence without repentence. No repentence without self-awareness. No self-awareness without fearless, clear-eyed acceptance of the past. Obama can't change that. Jackson can't change that. Martin, and Malcolm, and Medgar, and all of the other martyrs of civil rights couldn't change that. The task is ours, and ours alone to carry out, with no proxies, and no shortcuts."

kid said...

Hey anonymous check out Paddy Party Irish betting.They're paying off for Barack already.

Kentucky Rain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kentucky Rain said...

I live in South Georgia. I haven't lived here all my life, only a few years. I moved here for practical reasons. If I knew when I made that decision what I know now, I would have done something different.

I have lived all over the country, but never in a place that is so filled with hate toward not only blacks but to anyone that is not just like many of the locals; racist, redneck, ignorant, and sometimes downright cruel.

I have two neighbors (I live in the country) and both would never ever vote for Obama because he is black, although that is not the word they use. Despite my pleas for understanding the issues and putting the past behind us, i.e. segregation, racial hatred and oppression and etc. they are immovable objects and it is solely because of race and this ridiculous rumor propagated by the Right that Senator Obama is a Muslim, which should not make any difference any more than his race should make a difference.

Finally this all makes me very, very sad. I think I need to move. This is not the place where I want to live.

In conclusion I love your blog by the way. I found you on Google and was thrilled to see that you list my place on your blogs. Thanks! I am honored.

Anonymous said...

Dear MacDaddy....I believe with another of your readers that white racism is alive and well in this country; I also believe that when we elect President Obama that another small step...actually a huge step...will be taken to eradicate this painful history. I WANT deperately to believe that ultimately the American people are capable of change....November 4th will tell....Let's keep hoping and praying.....

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

MacDaddy, this was so deep that I had to read it twice. It was that good. Thank you.

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

kid: Glad you found my blog. Look forward to you coming again.
anon: I'm sorry to hear this, but, frankly, I'm not surprised. But I'm hoping that you plenty of friends and support. Thanks for sharing this story.
rainywalker: I hear you. What strikes me about what you said is the social isolation of these racist except for the ones who are just like them. How stifling. But things are moving real fast; and time will pass them by. I'm reminded of Robert Kennedy who spoke about time moving so quickly that, in 40 years, a black person could very well be president of the United States. Well, it's 40 years later.
one drop: Most folks just call me daddy. I got the name from working black male youth, some of whom were gangbangers. First they called me "Mr. Mac." After they got to know me better, they called me "MacDaddy." Later, they shortened it to "The daddy" or "daddy." On the last day I worked with them as a group, they hung around my car but pretended not to notice as I was getting in the car. But one of them said, "Hey, daddy, be strong." That's how I got the name for my blog. To some of them, I was the closest thing to a father to them.
madmike: Yes, I know this group. I was born in Alabama and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. And I've had a few "conversations" with the type you're talking about. I can understand you wanting to move. Meanwhile, stay in touch. Wishing you well. Love your blog, by the way.
kit: It means a lot that you connected with this post. I appreciate you.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that racists will never change unless the social institutions that teach racism are transformed, and new generations take the lead with new attitudes. I strongly believe that we must educate children about racism in schools, and clearly, this is not happening. In order for this to happen our country would have to confront the fact that like most of society, there are a lot of teachers who are probably perpetuators of the status quo (which would mean racism in many cases). Teacher training would need to change; the professional mission of teachers would need to be re-written to include educating children to practice kindness, inclusion, and to become peacemakers. Clearly, these changes *could* happen, but certainly not in an environment that pays lip service to "leaving no child behind" in core subjects (while actually leaving them behind in many cases), forcing out educational activities aimed at critical thinking, appreciating diversity, art, beauty, and learning to resolve conflict constructively.

Don't get me wrong -- I'll bet there are already teachers who confront racism in South Georgia who have been fired or put in their place by school boards / parents. After all, teachers have the level of respect far below those in business, law, medicine, nursing etc. Or they may still be fighting. But it is a lonely and sometimes precarious position to be in, going against the grain to change a system or culture.

We need major educational reform in this country. We need to be as concerned about social and emotional development of children as we are about their math and reading skills. We need teachers who are instruments of social justice, and not merely perpetuators of a racist system. And above all, we need to ensure that there are livable-wage jobs so children do not have to experience hunger or homelessness.

This would be a start.

Madmike: Keep up the quiet fight to change hearts / minds. Or consider moving north? Take care,

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Great post Daddy and you highlighted one of the great Americans who still doesn't get the attention he deserves.
Nobody said it like Baldwin.

Yes, we need to know our history. That doesn't make us guilty of anything or complicit, it simply makes us better people, aware of how others might view the world and more in touch with the totality of society.

I'm a racist. I have initial reactions when I see a person based upon their race. It's not something that happens consciously, it just happens. It doesn't get in the way of my interactions and it doesn't cause me to treat anyone different from anyone else, but nonetheless, those ingrained thoughts occur when I see people. I was raised by very white people in a very white world in the 50s and 60s. Blacks, Japanese, Native Americans, everybody different was treated differently right there before my eyes. Sometimes I wonder how the hell I escaped.

My children on the other hand don't seem to have those reactions.

No, like other posters have sdaid, I fear that core of white society wil never change, but what we can do is instead of calling them the core, let's call them the fringe, because that's what they are. A marginalized, pitiful fringe of decent society that will eventually die off. Maybe it'll take a hundred years, but they'll be gone eventually and will continue to become weaker and more pitiful over time.

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

verna: when I worked in both public and one private school, I met numerous progressive teachers. Most were not only great teachers, they were very progressive in their views.
"instead of calling them the core, let's call them the fringe, because that's what they are. A marginalized, pitiful fringe of decent society that will eventually die off."
sagacious: The phrase "ingrained thoughts" really resonates with me. A lot of whites really don't know how racist they are. And they don't know that blacks know it. But they do. They can see it in their eyes and elsewhere on their faces and the language of their body. For example, I used to work with a lady who, because she feared black men, would talk faster around me and other black men. Another white woman, who was very arrogant (I hate arrogant people), would talk louder and more slowly, when I was around. When I became the manager of the department, they both quit rather than be bossed by me.

I also like the word "fringe" over the word "core." Thanks.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Daddy, Interesting observations. Of course people approach people in many different ways depending upon the situation and the person.
I can only imagine some of the responses a person of color would elicit from some people.
How did you respond to the fast talkers and the others?

Vigilante said...

Daddy, your writing takes me places I know you didn't intend, and places where I never would have dreamed to find myself connecting dots which I never would have recognized as related nor foundational in terms of my life. I will spare you from my autobiographical trivia. But I'll bookmark this column for use when I next turn to my memoirs which my sons have been pressuring me to work on instead of my light weight blogging. I'll want to come back to this, also, because I never came close to reading James Baldwin as perceptively as you do.

Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

vigilante: I bet your memoir would be fascinating.
sagacious: I've met many fast talkers. I stop them and ask them if they want to have a conversation or do they want to give me a sermon. Then I say, "If you want to give a sermon, save it for the church. If you want to have a conversation, I'm here. Right now, you're giving a sermon, and I don't like it." I learned that from working with a lot of ministers and priests. It's self-centered, disrespectful, and arrogant. I let them know that I've a done a few things in life too. And, if they don't want to hear my story, I don't want to hear theirs. By the way, thanks for your insightful comments on my blog. I really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

An Addenda....Thank God, the ELEPHANT in the living room has been exposed in the cultminating weeks of this historic election:
RACISM IS ALIVE AND WELL IN THE USA and it's good that we are finally talking about it....Obama has made every effort to make this campaign about the WHOLE of the American people.....But sooner or later it had to come out that racism is a huge factor for some of the voters.....Hopefully, through this process healing will be taken to another level....there is a basic integrity in the American people...Hopefully, that integrity will show itself on November 4th.