On August 23, another shooting by police of an unarmed black man, Jacob Blake, came to the nation’s attention. He was shot seven times in the back at point blank range in front of his three children, in Kenosha, WI. Once again people are moved to protest another instance of injustice that is the result of unexamined, unchecked, systemic racism. It is obvious when you see the treatment that a 17-year-old, white kid from another state, IL, received after he shot and killed two protesters, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounded another, Gaige Grosskreutz in Kenosha three days later. There is video of him walking through the streets after the shootings, past curfew, toting a rifle that should not have legally been in his possession. People were shouting to the police on the streets that he was responsible for shooting someone. He was not stopped by any officers. He was not questioned about the shootings. He made it all the way back to his hometown in Antioch, IL, without incidence. Jacob Blake who is reported paralyzed from the shooting is handcuffed to his hospital bed. Why? This is not equal treatment under the law.
I want to share an excerpt of a1960 interview with the late writer, James Baldwin from 1960, 60 years ago. He is interviewed by a Canadian broadcaster, Nathan Cohen about race relations and the experience of Black people in the United States. Baldwin describes the function he saw of Black people in a country that in its infancy was so “undefined” and “amorphous” that the sky was the limit. There had to be a way to measure your status. The marker for how well you are doing in America is measured by how poorly Black people are doing.
James Baldwin interview
From a 1960 Canadian television interview, broadcaster Nathan Cohen talks to author James Baldwin about race relations and the black experience in the United States.
“… I don’t know what white people see when they look at a Negro anymore. But I do know very well, uh, I realized when I was very young, that whatever he was looking at it wasn’t me. It wasn’t me. It was something he was afraid of, it was something to which he was attracted, or which he found repulsive, but it wasn’t me. I was not a man. Now, this image, I don’t know what this image is but, it has something to do—it has something to do—I’m convinced of this, with a Puritan God. It has something to do with a peculiar, and I believe absolutely bankrupt morality under which we all are suffering. The one person who is outside this constriction, in fact, and historically, and in life was this pagan, this Black Pagan. Who that’s right, who was brought over as a chattel, to God’s Country.
It seems to me that it’s a reflection, a direct reflection, of the effort made by the white American to keep away, to not be threatened by black people. In some way the American vision of the world is all wrapped up with their vision of black men, which has to do with their vision of themselves. Black IS evil, the saved ARE white. Now there’s certainly a thread, which connects this reality, and makes it possible for the Secretary of the State to say, “We will not do business with the Devil.” It is not a Southern problem; it is a national problem.
…That in a way, black men were very useful for the American. Because, in a country so absolutely undefined, so amorphous, where there were not limits, no height really and no depth, there was one thing of which one could be certain. One knew where one was, by knowing where the Negro was. You knew that you were not on the bottom because the Negro was there. One knows what ‘sin’ is in the same way, one knows what ‘danger’ is in the same way. Now this implies a vision of one’s self, it seems to me, and a vision of the world which doesn’t stop at the American borders. It is also the way America deals with the world.
…I mean that the problem will never be resolved until everybody in the country in some way, I know how impossible this sounds however this is what has to happen, is able, somehow enabled to do without this crutch.
I think Americans, I think the Americans, essentially… I don’t think this. I know this. Yes. This is a threat to the American personality as it has so far been constituted. It’s a threat to every, it is a threat to their definition of the world. It is a threat to what they think reality is…