During the Civil Rights era, and still today, most Americans were taught that integration was the solution to racism. Growing up I constantly heard that racism no longer existed, and was educated to believe that the civil rights movement gave Black people equality. Soon I realized that it was silly to even suggest to kids that you should have to fight to be treated fairly, and that racism was still prevalent. Though I grew up privileged, hardly exposed to the harshest realities of what it was like to be Black in America, I was not very old before I started seeing it. I remember crying at 13 when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted because I simply could not understand how the system could fail. I watched far too much Law and Order and wanted to become an attorney, so I had faith in the justice system; until I started seeing more. Soon my experiences with racism were not just hearing about Trayvon Martin, or being left out by my white classmates, I began experiencing micro-aggressions, long before I could even register them as such. Countless videos of Black death flooded my social media feed all throughout my youth; all with the same hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter. This has been my reality for as long as I can remember, but after the events of last summer, including the murder of George Floyd, and the following protests in defense of Black lives, it seems everyone has started seeing racism like I did. I think the Black Lives Matter movement has more allies than ever before and it seems like everyone has finally realized that racism has not been defeated, and thus, integration did not solve America’s biggest problem.
The article “Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters” displays Baldwin’s grasp of complex racial issues that affected Black people of his time and remain prevalent today. He does not spew out hatred for the nation, create monstrous characters to make his point, or simply critique systems of power; rather Baldwin discusses his experiences with systemic racism, and by tying in history and his lived reality, articulates concepts many other civil rights activists failed to grasp. Long before Gen-Z was on Twitter berating the Democratic party for its lack of action towards racial justice, Baldwin knew integration into white society would not save Black Lives. As written in the article “Simply integrating oneself into white society was, in his mind, neither a sufficient nor sustainable goal.” Like me and every other person of color, Baldwin had experiences coming to terms with the realities of racism in America, and he understood something that many are just coming to terms with today- integration does not solve racial problems.
I can’t think of any oppressed group in history that was liberated by its oppressors, so like the author of the article, I believe radical change is the only thing that can transform our society. Reforms and integration have not eliminated violence against Black people and a lot of it remains state-sanctioned violence. I think Black people should reject respectability politics and rethink how we perceive integration, to understand why it has not and won’t fix systemic issues plaguing the community. Most of all I think it is important to focus on how we are teaching history. Part of the reason Baldwin resonates with me so deeply is because of his ability to articulate the the struggles of human existence in a deeply personal matter. Though he writes about human struggles, his literature evokes feelings of compassion and empathy; even when people suffer at the hands of societal structures people generally defend. As stated in the article Baldwin knew “the ‘Negro problem’ of today would be addressed by targeting the laws and practices of state-sanctioned violence, not by being accepted to join the executors.” Baldwin discussions of his experiences with systemic racism in his literature articulates concepts many other civil rights activists in the past and allies and people in the movement now have failed to grasp.