The theme of racism and its effects hold my interest while reading Go Tell It on the Mountain. Baldwin examines Reconstruction era America and the lasting hold of slavery from different generations, arguing that while people are no longer actively shackled and working on a cotton field, slavery has consequences that continue to resonate in the present and has serious implications for the future.
Though the throughline of slavery started much earlier, Go Tell It on the Mountain begins with Gabriel’s mother, Rachel, who was enslaved for thirty years in the South. Rachel endured many “tribulations,” including beatings and murders, simply because they were black. She was even raped by her white master (a story we see repeated with Deborah) and was denied the child that came out of that savagery. Through the stories of the remaining characters, Baldwin shows that the abolishment of slavery didn’t mean an end to the suffering and tribulations of black people in America.
The deep-seated racism and hatred continued to plague Rachel’s descendants and is reflected deeply in Florence’s relationship with black men. Black women are doubly oppressed — they endure the oppression pf a racist and sexist society. While the racism comes from the hands of the dominant culture, the sexism also comes from black men as well. Women are considered fragile and made to depend on men and the men, hardened by a racist society, are often cruel and abusive — relieving the pressure of their experiences on women. Florence states: “ain’t no woman born that don’t get walked over by some no-count man.” Florence grows to resent black men — especially Gabriel. As he was a “manchild,” she had to sacrifice many of her desires — school, clothes, food. As a result, Florence grew to resent her brother: “I hate him!” she would yell. “Big, black, prancing tomcat of a n—-.” I found Deborah’s response to this exclamation of hatred interesting. She said, “the Word tells us to hate the sun but not the sinner.” While she may have been talking about Gabriel’s actions, I also think that she may be referring to Gabriel’s blackness as a sin. This belief of blackness as a sin reflects how deep the claws of racism are –entrenching itself into the very being of black people to cause them to also internalize it.