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June 12, 2017


When my colleague dropped a note in the #random slack channel polling for readers of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time,” I responded. In truth, I’d not yet read it, but I had been struck by his stirring perspectives when I encountered the documentary he hosted about San Francisco when I wrote a bit about the complexities of being a professional black male in the area. I had made a note to read more from him, and this implied lie to my coworker prompted me to make a weekend’s work of it.

I started it as I travelled to Canada, and by the time I got back I’d finished it—and gained an entirely new view of myself and the world. Baldwin puts forth a few groundbreaking assertions.

First a foremost, a black person must not come to believe that which society believes about him/her. The range in which the black person operates is prescribed narrow, and there is no expectation for a black person to step beyond that range except in prescribed ways. These ways, of course, are white ways: the practices and principles which permit acceptance into a culture that is defined by and designed for white people and the preservation of their power.

Second, the culture of white people is abhorrent. It is based upon white superiority and non-white inferiority. It “burdens” the white man with correcting the savage ways of others, often in cruel and immoral ways. There is no white triumph that is not violent, no pinnacle or glorious era that isn’t marked by brutish, greedy amassing of power. It has always been about power and the ability to control, to enforce, to compel—and the fear of losing that power.

Third, no sane non-white person should ever desire to be accepted by white people into their culture except that they be brainwashed into accepting that which society believes about them. There is no place of honor for the non-white in that world, nor is that worldview appropriate for this world of whites and non-whites. It is not reflective of reality; white is not superior (or inferior) to non-white. It seems silly to even assert that it is, but notice the visceral reactions to phrases like “black lives matter” or “black is beautiful.”

Fourth, it is not for us, non-whites, to be accepted by white people, but for white people to be accepted by us. There is a perception of immediate threat to white power and control when non-white perspectives take equal footing, as just noted. This is immature, to be kind. In such immaturity, fears are revealed which illuminate who the white person really is. Fear of other equal cultures creates the nigger, the chink and the spic. Fear of powerful retributive justice creates the thug, the gangbanger. Fear of a brown, non-Christian worldview creates the war on terror, and so on. These are names and concepts direct from their worldview, which we are wise (as previously noted) to not accept. We must instead reject these views for the troubling misperceptions that they are and insist upon a more realistic and accepting worldview for our America.

Fifth, black Americans are true Americans. We were born here: brought over as property and disconnected from our heritage, treated as subhuman for centuries and then marginalized for generations. We may not be the true Native American, but we are most certainly America’s original cultural product. This country belongs to us in a way that, when realized, is amazing. It is our responsibility, then to make America not “great again” (ugh) but what it should be—and to help all Americans become their best self.

Finally, pity them to avoid being consumed by their anger and hatred. The goal is not to identify and take down enemies; it is to enlighten minds and use that expanded awareness to improve life for all Americans—even all humanity. There are white people who understand this and are consciously developing themselves, which is arduous and is commendable. White people are not our adversaries, though sometimes it seems an opponent is all some ever look for. Ignorance and illusion is our enemy. It is our burden to show our best example—our most beautiful self—and extend the logic of love, the true tool of the oppressed.

Stacked next to my recent reflections, this is paradigm changing for me. It springs new life into who I am and where I want to be.

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