A Comment on Integration

In “Nobody Knows My Name,” James Baldwin recounts a quote from a “very light Negro” in Alabama who says that “Integration has always worked very well in the South, after the sun goes down” (Baldwin 207). He records another African-American who says, “It’s not miscegenation unless a black man’s involved” (Baldwin 207). In recounting these quotes, Baldwin makes a distinct claim about the societal outrage over integration. Society in general, and Southern society in particular, did not feel the same discomfort with the association of African-Americans and white people in all situations. Rather, Baldwin seems to assert that the issue with integration is specifically the association between African-American men and white women. Of course, as Baldwin’s first quote claims, associations between Black women and white men could happen at night with little to no comment, even if the Black woman was sexually assaulted. By framing integration in this manner, Baldwin makes integration an issue for the Black man. Strikingly, his framing matches the historical approach to the civil rights movement, which predominately highlights men like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, and Bobby Seale. 

Yet this alluring framing threatens to deemphasize Black women’s voices in the South, the country, and the Civil Rights Movement. If we view integration as principally concerning Black men, we align with Baldwin’s male-centric understanding of racial and gender dynamics in the middle of the twentieth century. Audrey Lorde, on the other hand, provides an important, different perspective on the civil rights movement that works against this bias toward male-centric political action. By forcing Baldwin to dissect his close association between Blackness and manhood, Lorde shows that any conversation around integration is more than simply a Black man’s argument. Underlying these conversations is a history of Black women raped by white man seemingly without concern of or even principally because of the color of their skin. The challenge in Lorde’s conversation with Baldwin is to recognize this history and think how the hypocrisy around interactions between races affects Black women in addition to Black men. Baldwin seems reluctant to make this connection but understanding the racial dynamics in the South requires such an investigation.