Today I saw the new film “I Am Not Your Negro”, about James Baldwin. And I was completely blown away.
I found his clarity of thought to be breathtaking. I was astonished at how, half a century ago, he was able to articulate the problems at the core of American society — problems which remain very relevant today.
Fundamentally, he points out something that should be obvious to everyone (but sadly, isn’t): That the “black problem” is actually a white problem. When one group of people desperately clings to a fantasy that it is better than another group of people, what is really going on is that the first group of people is damaged.
He is also quite specific about the cause of this damage: White America’s desperate need to pretend to be innocent of its historical (and in many ways, ongoing) brutalities. Of course in reality you can never really run away from your sins. Sooner or later you must look at them square in the face and deal with them.
As the film shows, Baldwin warned us, fifty years ago, that this damage to the psyche of white America, if not corrected, would eventually cause our society to destroy itself from within. And now that is exactly what is happening.
The embarrassing idiot in the Whitehouse (or, to use his own language, the “So Called President”), is a symptom of exactly this sort of desperate denial. Fortunately, his very cartoonish incompetence is causing millions of Americans to wake up to the harmfulness of the fantasy of white superiority that helped get him elected.
A lot of damage is going to happen between today and the midterm elections two years from now, when Republicans will lose their congressional majority. But the outcome down the road may be net positive.
As James Baldwin predicted half a century ago, white America may eventually wake up and realize the true cost of living an absurd hateful fantasy: In the end, it is an act of pure self destruction.