The story of the Negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story.-James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro
Tonight, to commemorate Juneteenth, a celebration that honors the day, June 19, 1865, when enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free, I watched a movie that I put off watching for far too long. For the first time, I watched “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on American author, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist, James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, “Remember This House.”
What I realized as I watched the film is something I was blind to before. I am a Caucasian, middle-class, male, American, well-educated, and I do not consider myself to be a racist. In my mental assents, I see myself as anti-racist. I find the police brutality and mistreatment of Black Americans, the senseless murders, the white supremacists all one ugly stain on the American society.
I affirm the rights of Black Americans to vote, to the pursuit of life, liberty, property, and happiness. I detest discrimination and any means of assigning value to another man or woman’s life and worth. I believe that as a society we should not only allow every opportunity for Black Americans, but we should also create means for Black Americans to receive such opportunity in places where they are disproportionately represented, such as in leadership roles in business, civil roles in local, state and federal government, and other similar circumstances where nothing but skin color distinguishes one candidate from another.
Something that I came face-to-face with while watching “I Am Not Your Negro” was my white, male privilege.
I can’t change the fact that I am light-skinned nor a male.
I have received many unearned advantages just because of where I was born, my sex, my skin tone, and the socioeconomic status that I am from.
I had no choice in the matter. I am who I am.
What I must face and understand is that the society I live in affords me some opportunities that it doesn’t afford other people.
That is white privilege.
Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it has been faced. History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.-James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro
While by law, segregation was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there still exists segregation today. It is not just in the Deep South, where racism is still a social norm, but it is in suburbia all over America.
You might go to school with a peer who is black. You might have a black co-worker. You might smile at a cashier who is black at the grocery store. But when is the last time you entered the home of that fellow student or co-worker or cashier? When is the last time you invited him to join you at your home for a meal or a birthday party?
Much of the black community is still “segregated” to low-income areas in our towns and cities, in crime-ridden areas, where gun violence, drug abuse, and a number of other dangers is normal.
I am sad to say that none of my friends are black. I know some black people. I have worked with, gone to school with, even acknowledge people in my neighborhood who are black, but there is an emotional segregation that I didn’t even know existed in me that “insulates” me from black people.
What “I Am Not Your Negro” has done as I watched it is to bring me to face-to-face with that segregation, bringing me to an inflection point that something is wrong there and needs to change in me. I cannot insulate myself from other people because they are different from me. I cannot put up emotional barriers any more because of societal perceptions formed based on 400 years of prejudice in this country.
As a country, we have been doing that for more than four centuries and it still yields the same results.
Countless more in 2020 alone.
You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And furthermore, you give me a terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me.-James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro
I want to take a deeper look. I want to look my fellow citizen in the eyes. I want to lend a helping hand. I want to invite him over for a meal. I want to love my neighbor as myself.
I challenge you to do the same.