Repression and Race

I Am Not Your Negro reiterated many of the things we’ve already seen from Baldwin in Go Tell It on the Mountian and The Price of the Ticket. Namely, Baldwin’s gospel of love and how it grew from his issues with the church, and Baldwin’s persistent belief in the cause of racism coming from White people trying to hide their shame and guilt. Baldwin paints a picture of the illusion of whiteness, how whiteness equates to power, not identity. I was particularly curious about the context of the film, being released in 2016, and how it was received by both the Black and White community. I saw a good amount of people question its relevance, and others praise it greatly. I think the film’s relevance is blatantly obvious, especially after 2016, where we have seen repeatedly, over and over, that there is no line the white community will not cross to justify itself or bury its own head in the sand. 

My mind is drawn to the debates over pulling down Confederate statues in public areas, and I lived very close to the University of Chapel Hill where a lot of that tension started. White people justified leaving those statues up because of their heritage. For a long time, a Confederate flag flew over I-95, right outside my hometown. And this is justified by heritage. By pride, in ancestors being Confederate soldiers, which constitutes a gross lack of self-awareness already. However, no one seemed to acknowledge that most of those statues in the South were erected in the 1930s, and later in the 1960s, as direct means of intimidation and hate against Civil Rights. White people put up those statues to convey their hate, then later, quite conveniently, forgot how they got there and got angry when people sought to remove such symbols of hate. As Baldwin says around the 43:40 mark in I Am Not Your Negro, “It is not a racial problem, it is a problem of whether or not you’re willing to look at your life and be responsible”. People were not willing to look at how those statues got there, and what they meant, because we all know what they mean. They are statues of traitors and dead men. 

Similarly, in my school in North Carolina, we were taught that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights and the southern economy. What drove that economy was not mentioned. Slaves. The Southern economy was built upon slavery. My school was often mocked for being woke and we didn’t even acknowledge slavery as the prime reason the war was fought. Even more recently, the banning of Critical Race Theory in Florida schools and the paranoia over book bans and “race being taught to children” indicate a resurgence of refusal by the white community and its leadership (being most facets of the government) to acknowledge even the most basic accountability for the state of Black people in America. It seems White Americans are hunkering down to deny and obfuscate even more, from justifying racism as heritage to replying with “All Lives Matter.” Baldwin is absolutely right that most of the efforts of White Americans is to cover up, repress, or explain away our shame. And I don’t know how to deal with that, which means I still am playing a part in a systemically racist society. There are so many other things we could be spending all of this time and energy on, like combating climate change, dealing with capitalism, addressing the innumerable global crises. All of this energy is being spent to repress the reality of race in America, on one side of the aisle, and because of that the problem of race in America is endless. As Baldwin writes in The Price of the Ticket and as it is later mentioned in I Am Not Your Negro, “they require a song of my captivity to justify their own”.  There are many points to addressing this that I could not even begin to describe, but I think the media has a crucial responsibility to swallow. I Am Not Your Negro shows a myriad of humiliating and stereotypical portrayals of Black Americans, many of which feed into the complete illusion of ignorance White Americans have built up around them. How information is presented by the media and the government, particularly as media and information become more and more intertwined with everyday life, has a vast effect on how people see themselves and the world around them. BLM protestors cannot be called a violent mob, while the rebels that flew a Confederate flag from the Capitol are “exercising their rights”. This woeful, willful ignorance is destroying us. I just don’t know how to remedy that ignorance on a larger scale.