The American Condition (and Lil Nas X?)

Reading “Other(ed) Americans in Paris: Henry James, James Baldwin, and the Subversion of Identity” by Eric Savoy, although it was focused primarily on Giovanni’s Room, many connections can be found in Baldwin’s novel Go Tell it on the Mountain, and with new discussions of otherness in pop culture. Baldwin argues that Americans lost the history that they set out to find, that “our history…is the history of the total, and willing, alienation of entire peoples from their forebears.” He says that his Black ancestors had no desire to come to America, but neither did the ancestors of those who became white (Savoy 340). This recognition of the past, or the privilege to refuse it, is something I see in the characters of Gabriel and Florence. For Florence, she claims that she did not want to become white, but she wanted to run from the history her mother shared with her and the “common niggers” she found she lived around. The otherness she was refusing in herself and those around her is what Jacques and Savoy call the American Condition: “the despicableness of the inability to perceive the reality of otherness,” (Savoy 344). 

The American Condition is also reflected in Gabriel, as he cannot love anyone for who they truly are, their otherness, especially John. However, Gabriel’s rejection of otherness goes further because it is based in fear. Baldwin says that Americans failures to accept the lessons of history result in the dangerous disrespect for other people’s personalities, and the consequences of this disrespect is the inability to sympathize or to love one’s own otherness (Savoy 343). This is present in Gabriel, as he continues to try to create a “royal” line of children that continues to fail. Instead of facing his own mistakes and accepting his failed history, his own inability to love his otherness is projected onto John and many other family members around him.  

I think we continue to see the disrespect and lack of self-love on individuals’ otherness in the modern day. Not just in the obvious racism that this country is built on, but also through many other forms of otherness, including homosexuality. Although one could see this as completely unrelated, I find the recent conversations surrounding Lil Nas X, and his otherness to fit into this topic. Pop artist, Lil Nas X just released a song that highlights his homosexuality and the condemnation gay people have always experienced, and he is a black man, so conversations of race have inevitably risen, as well. Many arguments have involved the topic of his music video influencing children to a life of sin, but I argue that the American Condition has already done that. The fear of the wrath of God has allowed those that believe in religion to become the judges, the jury, and the executioners who have decided that any hint of otherness requires their own condemnation, on sight. Although the human condition and pop culture could extend back to Michael Jackson, and Prince, I wanted to focus on Lil Nas X, as he is the most recent.