While discussing David Baldwin during class this week, the topic of black anger and violence was brought up. David Baldwin was known for beating his children and his wife, which was normal in the black community during this time. Professor Kinyon gave a great analogy to explain this. She explained that when a black man goes into the world and holds his anger in, his only opportunity to explode is in the walls of his home. In “Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde”, the internal battle between black men and women are discussed.
In this conversation, Baldwin and Lorde both agree that by fighting each other, they are “essentially doing [the] enemy’s work”. It is understood this internal battle of violence between blacks men and women is wasted energy. However, I do not believe that Baldwin really understands or sees the internal battle for what it is: formation of internal sabotage. This causes Baldwin and Lorde to disagree on what needs to be focused in order to see equality in the world.
It is seen that there is a battle between blacks and whites. However, Lorde sees an internal battle between black men and women that Baldwin does not fully see. Baldwin is blinded to how “female bloodshed” at the hands of black males is internal sabotage, for he is only focused on how white society affects the black male. He completely ignores the black woman, and does not understand that their struggles are as real as his are. This is proved when Baldwin asks Lorde, “But you don’t realize that in this republic the only real crime is to be a Black man”? He does not see that being a black woman is seen as a crime too. Lorde responds by saying, “I realize the only crime is to be Black, and that includes me too.” The crime and hate is not just directed towards black men, but the black community as a whole. He is ignoring and invalidating womens hardship.
Even when Lorde explains that what black men do to black women is a problem, Baldwin asks, “How can you be so sentimental as to blame the Black man for a situation which has nothing to do with him?” Baldwin is stuck on the fight between blacks vs whites. Well, he is really stuck on the fight between black males and whites. He does not fully see the black woman. Lorde addresses Baldwin’s claims on blame by saying, “I’m not blaming the Black man. I’m saying if my blood is being shed, at some point I’m gonna have a legitimate reason to take up a knife and cut your damn head off, and I’m not trying to do it.” Lorde is attempting to prevent a true internal fight where the women fight back against the black men. If this happens, the fight between blacks and whites will be the least of their problems, because blacks hurt each other “far more effectively than outsiders do”. Baldwin only sees the fight between blacks and whites and misses the fight about to take place right in his backyard. Until Baldwin realizes that black women go through real strife just like he does, his eyes will not be opened to the internal battle. Black men are not putting their anger on people who have less problems and can handle it better. No, they are putting their anger onto people who go through the same things. They are fighting themselves, for Lorde is arguing that racism has the same effect on black females as on black males. Handling the internal battle will allow the black community to fight the kingdom more effectively and as one.
Reading Baldwin’s conversation with Audrey Lorde really changed my perception of him. As a girl from New Delhi, India, now deemed the rape capital of the world, I have grown up in an environment where I was taught to subconsciously watch each step I take. I was taught to take the longer route and go around a car standing on the street so no one could pull me inside, or to walk with my elbows sticking out in a crowded market so that no man could brush past me. This is why women’s safety and women’s rights hold a very significant place in my mind. In his conversation with Audrey Lorde, there comes a point where Baldwin questions, “you don’t realize that in this republic the only real crime is to be a black man?” To which Lorde responds saying, “[n]o, I don’t realize that. I realize the only crime is to be black, and that includes me too.” In this moment, my perception of Baldwin changed. How can someone, who has been marginalized his entire life, written about the evils of marginalizing others be so ignorant? Before reading this text, I thought of Baldwin as a civil rights advocate for equality. After reading this exchange, I do not think he ever understood the need for equality among all genders. The fact that he forgot about the only other gender more marginalized than him shows his ignorance. As a man, though queer, Baldwin still has more agency than a woman of the same race as his. He is not bound to anyone for economic reasons and is financially independent. He does not have to live in the additional fear of being raped or sexually harassed in any way by a white or a black man, inside or outside his house. The fact that Baldwin needs a reminder of the existence of black women and their status in society, after seeing everything his mother had to go through in his formative years as she gave birth to one child after another, speaks volumes about the superiority of a black man versus a black woman in society at the time. Sadly, even now, women have to say the words “me too” to get their grievances across.
After reading the articles “Equal in Paris?” and “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters,” I am thinking a lot about how Americans create and remember “traditions” in comparison to the rest of the world. In the first article, we see a number of Parisian traditions which are overtly racist and antisemitic, yet remain a part of the culture simply because they have a historical connotation, as Paris is an “ancient” kind of city and these “traditions” have become a part of that ancient history. The U.S. is not “ancient” like France, yet we still perpetuate racist “traditions,” claiming they are a part of our history, such as people flying the Confederate flag. There is the presence of a dual history in America: one that white America accepts and one that it does not, and this dual history is exactly what I think Baldwin wants to combat in The Fire Next Time. In “My Dungeon Shook,” Baldwin claims that white people are “trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it” (CE, 294). So, when I think about the path towards achieving racial equality, the first step must be the true teaching of history.
In “Equal in Paris?” we see a denial of history in a modern day setting when Williams describes drinking in a room with his friends, yet being surrounded by racist decor and imagery. Whoever decorated that apartment most likely saw these decorations as nothing more than historic artifacts, but this is exactly the problem. Denying the racism of historical artifacts does not make any sense because it leads to the denial of racism in our present day. In “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters,” Edmonds brings up how many white people have qualms with the message of the BLM movement because they believe America is a “post-racial society.” But again, this is simply not the case. We cannot deem our society a post-racial one simply by denying the racism of our history and then hold that history sacred in the form of “tradition.” Like the racist decorations in the Paris apartment, America perpetuates symbols of racism like the Confederate flag; it perpetuates a history that is not even American in order to create some sense of white complacency. I do not think Baldwin would have been surprised by the Capitol Riot and the various racist symbols flaunted during it, such as the Confederate flag and the constructed gallows, because the whole event was a result of white America denying half of its history; the rioters denied the loss of Trump, and thus created a false narrative which sent them down a path to making that false narrative a reality.
These false narratives that are popping up more and more are exactly what we need to combat in our schools. We cannot let one side of history overshadow another, and further claim that the racism of that history must be forgotten in order to uphold American tradition. In my Political Theory course, when discussing John Stuart Mill, we discussed whether or not tradition should be upheld at all in society. Mill argues that upholding tradition leads to the preservation and perpetuating of false truths that will ultimately undermine a society if it leaves these false truths unquestioned. I completely agree with him on this point (even though he hypocritically speaks against this point later) and believe that in order for our society to be grounded in actual truth, we must question most of our traditions. Why do southern schools still refer to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression”? Why do some treat the Confederate flag as an American symbol if it represents a history that is purely anti-American? Why are black authors excluded from the American literary tradition in high school classrooms? These are the kinds of questions we must ask ourselves and others in order to learn and accept the true history of our country. If we reject upholding tradition for tradition’s sake, then maybe white America can finally be “released” from the history it does not understand as Baldwin hoped would one day happen when writing to his nephew James.