James Baldwin Had It Right

August 1, 2018

James Baldwin once described three racist white men at an airport as standing

together and menacing him as, "Pathetic boys together in a John Wayne stance." They were a ridiculous bunch of baffling fools that thought their copycat stance that they borrowed from a John Wayne movie made them men—it made them look like fools and only pointed to cowardliness of needing three to intimidate one. Not to say that these racists were not capable of racist crimes, but they needed a bunch of followers to muster up a fake bravery when a lot of them are together. 


James Baldwin was perhaps one of the best writers of the 20th Century. His words had a penetrating nature to them that struck at the heart of white supremacy. He was very hurt when Malcolm X was assassinated and referred to the killing in this way, “Whatever hand pulled trigger did not buy the bullet. . . . that death was dictated by the most successful conspiracy in the history of the world, and its name is white supremacy.” He spoke to the consequences of speaking in racist words as a way to yeast up the hatred in a mob of killers. When the likes of a George Wallace spoke about supporting segregation in vile and racist terms his words contributed to the deaths of many. Words are a powerful weapon.


The words of the current president have stoked the violence that is taking place across the country. Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, women, gays, and others are being targeted because of the racist words of Donald Trump—a crime he will never be able to escape as far as history goes. Trump has become the racist cheerleader of the neo-confederates, neo Nazis, and other fire eaters that spew hatred like a dragon spitting out fire on gasoline. James Baldwin provided the narrative to capture the nature of white supremacy and that lesson cannot be destroyed by propaganda or violence. It remains a lesson in the hearts and minds of millions, and not just blacks, but a growing number of whites that refuse the rhetoric of white supremacy. If you see the world as being some sort of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, or some other fictional white character you have simply fooled yourself. In the hands of rotten people these characters only produce maniacs as opposed to characters that might have meant something else in another context. The reason for turning these white fictional characters into some sort of racial icon was to perpetuate white supremacy.


James Baldwin left a true legacy that a revolutionary might be killed or die, but the revolution toward human progress cannot be killed. Every generation, at its core, seeks to move the historical clock away from white supremacy, fascism, and intolerance. This generation has moved it along quite well, and even with an electoral victory, or whatever short-lived victory the extremist conservatives may have, their days are numbered by the clock of history. The extremists have tried to label fighters for human progress as “liberal” or “leftists and Marxists,” but many of us are neither one, but fighters and revolutionaries against the lunatics of the extreme. White supremacists are at a loss since they cannot enslave blacks anymore. Their wealth will never be the same as it was during slavery. Even TV commercials show blacks in positions of power and with mates of other ethnicities. Scores of whites have joined the Black Lives Matter movement in protests and many no longer accept the propaganda that their fathers cold-heartedly taught them. James Baldwin had it right!

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