Final Blogpost

This class has stretched me in many different ways. It has challenged my way of thinking and has opened my eyes to new perspectives. I came into this class just excited to learn more about black history. I always knew I would want to educate myself on my history once I got to college, but it had always bothered me that I had to wait until now. That said, this class has allowed me to reflect on a passion I have had for a long time. I often found myself enjoying the readings and essays we completed, and I always had a lot of thoughts. I guess a lot of thoughts brewing from over the last 19 years.

I am now able to look at society and see how Baldwin saw society. This class allowed me to get in the head of Baldwin and see the world through his eyes. That was an experience within itself because he has made such a large impact even in our world today. I think the biggest take away I am getting from this class is the impact identity has on racism in America. Everyone is in search for an identity, and racism is a sign of searching. It provides me with a new perspective to look out at the world in. This is something I will continue to carry into my next 3 years at Notre Dame and so on.

Guilty Innocence

During class this past week, there was a discussion about the subtle ways racism has been integrated into our society. One way is through the nursery rhyme “Eeny Meeny Miny Moe”. It was a shock to learn that the verse “catcha tiger by it’s toe” was really written as “catch a nigger by it’s toe”. I remember singing this rhyme as a kid while picking who was going to be it in tag. It’s crazy to me that innocent children are taught things like this that seem innocent, but at its roots are not. Changing a word in the song does not change the spirit of the song. It makes me wonder what other things look innocent in our society, but really has a hidden meaning or origin. 

The first thing that came to mind for me was the school system in America. The majority of the great people we learn about in American history are white males. We learn about the great inventions created by white individuals, and the great impacts white men have had on society. However, the lack of black leaders, inventions, and impacts by African Americans shown in curriculum is not an accident. It is a strategy. In “A Talk to Teachers”, Baldwin writes, “…he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization” (679). The lack of teaching done on black excellence results in black youth assuming that they never have and never will do anything great. This is stunting their determination to change their society at a young age.

The way slavery is taught also causes problems. Baldwin states, “ He is assured by the republic that… his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon- eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie” (679). Slavery is taught in a watered down way that prevents the herendous truth of slavery from being told. Students, black and white, can easily walk away not realizing how terrible it was. In addition, there were many revolts that took place, however the educational system does not teach that. They do not want black youth to know that their ancestors were strong and fought back because then black youth will know that they are strong and can fight back. It seems innocent that the educational system is teaching slavery to students, and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that we learn these things. However, the way they teach it secretly has another agenda. 

Teaching majority white history may seem innocent on the surface, but there are darker tactics at work. It may seem innocent to “forget” about the black excellence in history or tell the full horror of slavery, but it is not. There are hidden origins to these tactics, and I am sure there are many other examples of false innocence in our society.

The Internal Battle

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.

The Cycle of Racism

The contrast of hate and love has been a constant theme in Baldwin’s work. In “The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King”, Baldwin writes, “… Martin Luther King really loves the people he represents and has-therefore– no hidden, interior need to hate the white people who oppose him…” (639). This is a powerful statement. A cycle of racism is really a cycle of bigotry. Eliminating hatred from the cycle simultaneously eliminates racism. Martin Luther King and James Baldwin both preach a gospel of love because both understood that accepting the white man’s description of a black man, is the biggest mistake. It only results in hatred for oneself, which is expressed by hatred for others. This does nothing but continue the cycle of bigotry and racism.

An understanding of true identity is needed (on both sides) in order to get over the disease of hatred. Whites need to have an understanding that they are not superior, and blacks need to see that they are not inferior. This takes the white community opening their eyes to the truth of America, and the role they play. Often, the message stops here, but Martin Luther King addresses the black community as well.  He states, “We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are many things we must do for ourselves” (Baldwin 644). This cycle of racism and bigotry is a two way street, and MLK sees that the black community has an important role in the matter as well. Blacks must replace the hatred in their hearts with love. When true love is found for oneself and one’s community, hatred thrown does not have the same effect. It is seen that what the white community is selling is not something necessary to buy. Internal freedom is received, and hatred for the ones feeding the lies is no longer necessary. It is seen that the hatred thrown is not a reflection of the receiver, but of the giver. When true love for one’s identity is found, true change can come forth.

Unity in Christianity

While reading “Going to Meet the Man”, I noticed many similarities with “Down at the Cross”. For one, there is a consistent questioning of how Christianity differs between blacks and whites. Is God the same towards blacks as he is towards whites? Is there a separate heaven for separate races? In “Going to Meet the Man”, Baldwin writes about a white man named Jessie. “…he [Jessie] had never thought of their [African Americans] heaven or what God was, or could be, for them…” (Baldwin 938). Jessie deduces that there must be a separate heaven and maybe even a separate God for black people than whites. It’s not surprising that it’s not something he has thought about. Why would someone want to think that those they dehumanize on earth could actually prove to have the same worth in heaven? We see the same conclusions from a black perspective. In “Down at the Cross,” Baldwin writes, “But God…is white” (304). Baldwin has difficulty believing that the same God white Christians worshiped, could ever love him as well. We see this saddening ideology of racial separation in a belief that clearly stands for unity. This is due to the way the world we live in affects our spiritual beliefs. I find that often we judge God’s character based on the character of people or society. During Baldwin’s time especially, society said that we were meant to be separate and some automatically assumed that heaven must work the same. In our world, whites are automatically categorized as righteous and pure while blacks are subconsciously seen as sinful and suspicious. This leaves people assuming that God sees people the way society does- whites as godly and blacks as ungodly.  To this day, we still have white churches and black churches. Why can’t people worship the same God together? It’s obvious that this racial separation continues to prevalent in our world today.  However, doesn’t Jesus call for unity? Why isn’t the church representing God’s kingdom the way it’s supposed to? I believe these are questions Baldwin wrestles with.

Galatians 3: 28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (ESV). It’s clear that God does not see anyone as superior or inferior. He sees us as not just equal but one and the same. Separation and inequality are things the world teaches us, but not something God teaches. We must be careful with looking at the world for God when the world does not support what He says. Baldwin falls into the lie that God and the world run the same way when in reality they do not. Unity is what God calls for, yet all we see in the world and the church is disunion. The church is meant to represent Christ, and this is one thing that is certainly missing. God does not change his word for the world. We must change our world for his word. Moral of the story is to depend on God more than what we see in the world and shoot for change.

Lil Nas X and the Church

We have recently discussed Lil Nas X’s new music video and recent events in class as they correlate closely with Baldwins experiences. Baldwin and Lil Nas X are both gay men who end up leaving the church. Both also question their sexuality and how that fits in with what the Christian church teaches. Lil Nas X posted a tweet towards the Christian church basically saying that he was taught to hate himself in a community that was supposed to stand on love ( As a Christian who has grown up in the church, I have been asking what can be done better to help everyone know they’re loved.

In “Down at the Cross”, Baldwin writes “When we were told to love everybody, I thought that meant everybody” (pg. 310). That hits hard because it’s true. Jesus certainly teaches us to love everybody, yet we consistently see division in the church. There are so many divisions that it can be hard to keep count. What I believe is important to remember is that the church is not perfect. Yes, people should be able to look at Christians and see the character of God, however there are people who do not represent the love of Christ correctly. 

While there are many scriptures in the bible that address homosexuality (Rom. 1:27, 1 Tim. 1:10, etc), I believe that the church often seems to use these scriptures to judge rather than uplift and remind people of grace. However, there is a difference between disagreement and judgment. Often, when Christians disagree with something it is seen as judging rather than providing opinion and biblical evidence. God is the ultimate judge. I find that disagreement and judgment are often considered the same, leaving many, such as John in “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, hating themselves. Referring to John’s naked baby picture, Baldwin writes, “But John could never look at it without feeling shame and anger that his nakedness should be here so unkindly revealed (26)”. Similar to Adam and Eve when they hide their naked bodies from God, John hates when people are able to see him without coverings to hide his secrets. This passage is pertaining to the physical body, however I believe it correlates with the internal body as well. John feels ashamed of himself externally and internally. However, God came searching for Adam and Eve even when Adam and Eve were ashamed of what was exposed in their vulnerability. And God is still the same, searching for us all. The angry God theology needs to be put to rest. The love and desire God has for his children regardless of what is revealed in their nakedness has to be made known.

The Curse of Ham

In class, the curse of Ham has been brought up on several occasions. I have read Genesis 9:21-27 several times throughout my life, yet this was a concept I was unaware of. After digging deeper into this ideology, I further understand Baldwin’s point of view on Christianity as described in his writing, specifically “Down at the cross”. 

In Genesis 9:25, Noah curses his son Canaan for seeing him naked. Noah states, “‘Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.’” This story has been used for decades to validify slavery and the putting down of people of color. According to Time Magazine, “In its boiled-down, popular version, known as “The Curse of Ham,” Canaan was dropped from the story, Ham was made black, and his descendants were made Africans” (Rae). In reality, all the brothers had the same father and were the same race. However, Africans being seen as the descendents of Ham is accepted, and blacks are deemed as less than due to fate. 

The curse of Ham is a concept that Baldwin is taught and continues to struggle with during his time in the church. In “Down at the Cross”, Baldwin writes, “I knew that, according to many Christians, I was a descendant of Ham, who had been cursed, and that I was therefore predestined to be a slave” (Baldwin 307). Baldwin believes that he is meant to be less than according to the word of God. He does not understand how God can be loving to some people and not loving to others. Therefore, Baldwin not only doubts the love Christians show, but the love of God resulting in his loss of faith.

False Imprisonment of Black Males

In section 2 of “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Baldwin writes about the false accusation and suicide of John’s father, Richard. In my opinion, the writing of Richard’s imprisonment and death are very rushed. I feel that there are many missing details that Baldwin failes to provide. We quickly go from Johns arrest, to his trial, and to his suicide, with barely any time to process it all. I believe this was strategic. False accusations of black men have been a common occurrence throughout history, and these stories are often overlooked. Many truths are unknown and the ones that are known often lack detail. I believe Baldwin rushes through Richard’s story to mimic the way these types of stories are ignored in real life. These false accusations are often seen as just things that happened, and not things that highly impact lives. Baldwin allows us to see the impacts that are often ignored and see the lack of attention given to these problems.

In the book, Richard gets arrested for “robbing a white man’s store” (Baldwin 163). When he states that he was not there, the storekeeper replies, “You black bastard…you’re all the same” (Baldwin 166). Richard is eventually found inncoent, yet commits suicide after being released. The storyline of Richard’s arrest and death is common and has repeated itself throughout history. 

For one, I see parallelism between Richard’s story and the Trenton 6. In 1948, six black boys are falsely charged for the robbing and killing of a white storekeeper. The only description given of the men is that they were black males. Apparently, that was enough information to arrest 20 black males and charge 6 with the crime. Even with alibis, all were convicted and sentenced to death. However, with push back, four were acquitted and 2 were held guilty. Collis English, one of the ones sentenced to prison, dies of a heart attack at age 27. 

In both instances, a white man is robbed and black men are falsely accused of it.  In addition, all these men are arrested with no evidence even though they claim that they were not present. The action of categorizing black men, and automatically declaring them guilty is also heavy in both instances. Lastly, English dies in prison and so does Richard. English dies in a physical prison, while Richard dies in a prison of the mind. Overall, the impact false imprisonment has on the lives of black males is large and it needs to change. I believe this is what Baldwin wants to get across.

Biblical Parallels in the Story Line

While reading “Go Tell It on the Mountain” this week, I discovered an interesting parallel between this book and a story in the Bible. In class, we talked about many references Baldwin makes to the bible including the use of biblical names and language. I have noticed that some of the story lines mimic the bible as well. For now, I would like to focus on Gabriel’s adultery and how it correlates with Abram and Sarai in the Bible. 

In Part 2 of “Go Tell It on the Mountain”, we learn more about Gabriel’s past with his late wife Deborah. During this time, Gabriel has been waiting for “[…] the son that God had promised him, who would carry down the joyful line his fathers name…” (Baldwin 110). Deborah is barren, so Gabriel remains sonless. There is another woman named Esther whom Gabriel commits adultery with and who later becomes pregnant with his son, Royal. Panicked, Esther decides to leave for Chicago. Years later when Royal dies, Deborah tells Gabriel that she knew that it was his son all along, and she would have raised him as her own had he told her the truth. Reading this story, I couldn’t help but notice the many similarities to Genesis 15- 16. 

In the Bible, Abram’s wife Sarai is also barren. Abram asks God, “ Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless, and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascuc” (Genesis 15:2)? God then promises Abram a son of his own flesh and blood. When Sarai remains childless, Sarai tells Abram to sleep with her slave Hagar to have a child through her. Abram goes through with this and Hagar becomes pregnant with a boy named Ishmael. Once Hagar realizes that she is pregnant, she begins to hate Sarai and Sarai sends her and the child away. However, they return and stay with them for a while longer. Keeping with His promise, God allows Sarai to become pregnant with a son, Isaac. After his birth, Sarai sends Hagar and Ishmael away yet again. 

Gabriel and Abram are both promised a son by God, and are worried about their family lines. However, both men lack patience and take matters into their own hands. Gabriel has an affair with Esther which Deborah is aware of, and Abram sleeps with Hagar which Sarai is aware of. Hagar and Esther both become pregnant and bear these men son’s sons who are sent away, but return. However, eventually both sons leave again. Royal is born in Chicago, returns to the South, and is later killed. Ishmael is sent away by Sarai, returns, but is later sent away again to live in the desert. God keeps his promise to both Abram and Gabriel and provides them with sons through Sarai and Elizabeth. Baldwin attempts to mirror the bible in many ways including the story lines.

Dehumanization of Women

In the novel, “Native Son”, Richard Wright uses distinct vocabulary to narrate the murder of Bessie. In this scene, Bigger repeatedly strikes Bessie in the head with a brick until “… he seemed to be striking a wet wad of cotton, of some damp substance…” (Wright 237). My first time reading this, I assumed that Wright’s word choice was for imagery purposes. However, after the class presentation on Wednesday, I believe there is a separate motive. The use of the word “cotton” is intentionally used along with the use of the phrase “damp substance” to distance Bessie from humanity. Wright could have used human characteristics to describe her murder, but instead he uses commodities. She is seen as an object to be purchased and used for men’s desires. 

Even during the trial, Bessie’s body is used for evidence towards Mary’s murder and to prove the inhumane characteristics of Bigger Thomas. There is no respect for Bessie as a human being.  At one point, Bigger wishes to put vulnerable Bessie in his chest “… just to know that she was his to have and hold whenever he wanted to” (Wright 140). She is seen as an object for Biggers consumption.

In “Many Thousands Gone” Baldwin writes, “… no American Negro exists who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull” (Baldwin 32). In other words, no black American male exists who does not battle with anger, fear, and hatred in his mind. At the time of her death, Bessie also expresses her internal anger, fear, and hatred toward Bigger and her own life (Wright 229-230). It seems that Bigger and Bessie are more similar than Wright and Baldwin give credit for. Wright and Baldwin act like women are tools that are invulnerable to the emotions that characterize Bigger. They imply that women are subhuman and do not go through the same struggles men do although they are in the same environments.. “Native Son” does not represent a black struggle, but a male struggle.