…The truth is that this country does not know what to do with its black population now that the blacks are no longer a source of wealth, are no longer to be bought and sold and bred like cattle; and they especially do not know what to do with young black men…It is not accidental that the jails and the army and the needle claim so many, but there are still too many prancing about for the public comfort. Americans will, of course, deny, with horror, that they are dreaming of anything like “the final solution” – those Americans, that is, who are likely to be asked: what goes on in the great, vast, private hinterland of the American heart can only be guessed at by how the country goes these days. Some pale, compelling nightmare – an overwhelming collection of private nightmares – is responsible for the irresponsible ferocity of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Some vindictive terror on the part of the people made possible the Government’s indefensible and obscene performance in Chicago. Something has gone violently wrong in a nation when the government dares attempt to muzzle the press – a press already quite supine enough – and to intimidate reporters by the use of the subpoena. Black men have been buried alive in this country more than once – many men now living have seen it with their own eyes; black men and boys are being murdered here today, in cold blood, and with impunity; and it is a very serious matter when the government which is sworn to protect the interests of all American citizens unabashedly allies itself with the enemies of black men. Let us tell it like it is: the rhetoric of a Stennis, a Maddox, a Wallace, historically and actually, has brought death to untold numbers of black people and it was meant to bring death to them. This is absolutely true, no matter who denies it… Now, in the interest of the public peace, it is the Black Panthers who are being murdered in their beds, by the dutiful and zealous police. But, for a policeman, all black men, especially young black men, are probably Black Panthers…just as, in a Vietnamese village, the entire population, men, women, children are considered as probable Vietcong. In the village, as in the ghetto, those who were not dangerous before the search-and-destroy operation assuredly become so afterward, for the inhabitants of the village, like the inhabitants of the ghetto, realize that they are identified, judged, menaced, murdered, solely because of the color of their skin. This is a curious way of waging a war for peoples’ freedom as it is of maintaining the public peace…
James Baldwin, No Name in the Street, 1972
3 replies on “The Prophet of Ferguson”
Isn’t it crazy that we’re just living history over and over? I read A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a few years ago and was so struck by all of the parallels concerning poverty and militarization. He could say those words right now and they’d be just as relevant. Sometimes I think we’ve done very little. These things also remind me that revisionists are wrong–right after slavery ended, Southern politicians said that the relationship between blacks and whites were great (the book The Betrayal of the Negro talks about that). During Jim Crow, a majority of white Americans believed that black Americans were treated equally. There was always this racial amnesia that prevented people from seeing truth.
Great excerpt. Love James Baldwin.
Racial amnesia? Who? Not exactly sure what that means there, but I suspect it has to something to do with forgetting. That is not referring to white people, is it? That idea can just go ahead and be thrown out the window. Thinking that white people have racial amnesia will put you on the wrong track. White people have not forgotten about, are not ignorant about, and are not confused about the system of white supremacy. And they do not need to be informed or educated about racism/white supremacy by non-white people. They know exactly what they are doing, that’s why they’re doing it. It’s not racial amnesia, it’s called: dedication to white supremacy.
I try hard not to be a cynic about race relations in America. But after sixty plus years of living and over forty years of working to interrupt bias, and eradicate prejudice and discrimination I have come to believe that White supremacy is not the equivalent of a topical disease treated with an ointment and cautionary advice about future prevention. Instead it is more like a broad spectrum infection that does not kill the hosts. Instead it sustains the host with delusions of superiority inviolate, and thereby causes the host to have little to no interest in treatment, or cure. To compound the matter the host has an interest and means of spreading the infection from cradle to grave to anyone else within the host’s vicinity. With modern media and social networking technologies the infection now spreads and intensifies at a rate that cannot be checked by historical forms of human interventions or localized attempts at systems adjustments.
And finally I find that long standing progressive discourse on the problem is not useful because it has proven to be nothing more than an intellectual exercise that disrupts the need for the violated and witnessing human beings to feel the impacts are deeply violent and soul destroying. What is needed is for these people (the violated and witnesses) is to be shown the value of engaging in public self sacrifice, as we have seen elsewhere in the world.
The public expression of the rage and frustration of the violated and witnesses is a necessary step that can lead to end the immoral legacy that great institutions (government, religion and business) conspiring together to create capitalism on the backs of slaves and marginalized labor. The profits that have become the new God we worship throughout this legacy, and the vicious strategies that have diminished the value of most humans and their labor today is the deepening condition that is a infection of White supremacy
We should all be taking note of how bigotry towards one group or another bleeds and marks us all of us as Dr. King warned. Humans do not exist solely to be labor as cast more than 300 hundred years ago or as implied by those who have always declared themselves to be the demi-gods that the currently call the ‘creators’. This is the extreme characterization of White supremacy that stratifies white supremacy into the more or less than supreme.