The Outsider-Within

Rae’Vonne focused on the idea of stranger-hood in Black America and how Baldwin was a stranger himself, both in America and within his family, struggling with his queer identity as well as his Blackness. This discussion reminded me of an idea I had come across while doing an assigned reading in a gender studies class. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins describes the social location of Black women in America as outsiders-within. Specifically, she cites their historic position as domestic workers as endowing them this status. Black women were brought into the most intimate spaces of their white counterparts, giving them the ability to see, hear, and know everything that went on in these households. They were nearly insiders in terms of their accessibility to the private happenings of the white family life, but they would never be considered such as they were Black women being exploited economically for their work. Thus, their Blackness made them the “perpetual outsider[s]” (PHC 11).

I feel as though PHC’s analysis of the Black woman’s position can be applied to all Black people in America today. Collins quotes Alice Walker stating “the gift of loneliness is sometimes a radical vision of society or one’s people that has not previously been taken into account” (PHC 12). I think, in a sense, all Black people within this country experience this loneliness–or as we have labeled it, stranger-hood–that makes them remarkably aware of their position as oppressed in society. 

As we have discussed in class, white people do not have to know Black people. They can go their entire lives without more than a few shallow conversations with a few Black individuals–if even that. Black people on the other hand have no choice but to know white people. They live in a white world run by and for white people. This is what makes them, and what made Baldwin, the outsiders-within, and by extension, this is what gives them the ability to see clearly how society operates to their disadvantage. I think this loneliness is what allowed Baldwin to become the ‘prophet’ that he saw himself as and that John became in GTIOTM.

One thought on “The Outsider-Within”

  1. Megan! I completely agree with this! I recently read an interesting perspective on the ways in which Black masculinity and femininity developed which I think relates to your post pretty well. Basically, enslaved Black women were forced to labor in a way that was antithetical to the traditionally feminine lady-of-the-house ideal. Later on, Black women were still forced to work, only now because of socioeconomic disadvantages which contributed to Black poverty. By default, this precluded Black men from operating within traditional systems of masculinity, as they could not be the sole breadwinner and were seen as unable to provide for their families. I think of this as another facet of ‘strangerhood’–Black men and women were divorced from traditional standards of masculinity and femininity and so occupied a sort of undefined in-between.

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