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A Summary of James Baldwin's, "I Am Not Your Negro"

Updated on August 13, 2018
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James Baldwin

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I am not your Negro summary


In "I am not your Negro" James Baldwin touches on a number of very important points regarding racial issues before and during his time. Baldwin is not only concerned with how these issues have affected African Americans, but rather the United States as a whole. For this reason, in response to Dick Cavett, Baldwin notes that the real question is what is going to happen to the country as a whole. In a country where young people of color like Dorothy Counts were ridiculed and even assaulted (spat on) for being in a school that was only designated for white students, Baldwin explains that Bill Miller, a young white teacher, was also treated like a black person particularly by the police because of her association with black people like Baldwin. For Baldwin, then, this was evidence that the issue affected both races despite the fact that one (African Americans) were the most oppressed.

Baldwin's role


Compared to three of his friends who played an important role as civil rights activists (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers) Baldwin describes himself as more of a witness who did not belong to such groups as the NAACP, Christian religion, Black Panther or a Black Muslim among others. For Baldwin, there are a number of reasons as to why he would not consider himself a member of any of these groups despite being a Black man who hoped to see an end to the discrimination that faced black people. For instance, unlike the Black Panther, Baldwin never viewed all white people as devils while a majority of the Christians were hypocrites who ignored such commandments as "love one another as I have loved you". While not being a member of such groups bothered him at times, he understood that he had a role to play; that of traveling across the country (and even outside the country) are reporting what he experienced with the public. In the same way, all the three activists (King, X, and Medgar among others) had taken their stance in their struggle against segregation and discrimination that affected black people. For instance, whereas Malcolm X advocated for African Americans to use any means necessary to fight for their rights, King advocated for nonviolent resistance as they pursued their rights. Regardless, they all played an important role in helping ensure the progress of people of color.

Dorothy Counts

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Impacts of Segregation


While Baldwin admits that most of the whites he has encountered had nothing particularly against black people, he explains that segregation presented a significant problem given that apart from their interactions in schools or in the homes of white people (where black people worked as maids etc) white people had no knowledge of how black people lived when they went back home. Without such knowledge, they had no idea of the issues that affected black people and thus remained ignorant of such issues. In such cases, black people continued suffering as a result of segregation given that they had to go back home and face the day to day problems that affected them.

In writing about the murders of such individuals as Medgar Evers, the author also includes a section from the song "Only a pawn in their game" by Bob Dylan. This is of great significance given that it points out how individuals who committed these killings were simply being used by others. According to Baldwin, this is to the extent that individuals have hurt and even killed those they were related to. For instance, he notes that White men would lynch Negroes knowing that it was their sons. A good example of this is with those who fathered children with women of color.

Despite all the efforts of the African Americans in various sectors of labor, not to mention the slave labor they provided since they were taken from Africa, Baldwin explains that Blacks are still looked down upon even though they were no longer slaves and were said to be equal to Whites under the constitution. This may explain why Mr. Robert Kennedy, the then Attorney General, suggested that it would take over 40 years before a black man could get an opportunity of being president of the United States. Based on this reason, Baldwin concludes that there is barely any hope for African Americans to achieve the American dream.

Documentary

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Lastly


Baldwin also compares the type of America (and the West in general) portrayed on television and what the reality is. For instance, whereas the United States and the West as portrayed as more progressive nations that are more tolerant compared to other nations, this is not the case in reality given that racial issues are still a big problem in the country. This is also emphasized by Malcolm X's perspective of Christianity. While there are White Christian Churches as well as black ones, X pointed out that the most segregated hour in the American life was high noon on Sunday. This displays the hypocrisy of Christians who remained segregated in their respective Churches (black church and white church) and ignoring Biblical teachings to love each other. Despite what they have learned from the Bible, particularly the New Testament (in Christianity) segregation, discrimination and violence in the Christian nation is still prevalent (thus showing that Christians and Christianity cannot be trusted). Regardless, Baldwin concludes that while he is hopeful, the future of the country will depend on the people and their representatives and how they deal with the issues that affect both sides.

© 2018 Patrick

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