Notes of a Native Son

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Beacon Press edition of Notes of a Native Son published in 2012.
Preface to the 1984 Edition Quotes

I had to try to describe that particular condition which was––is––the living proof of my inheritance. And, at the same time, with that very same description, I had to claim my birthright. I am what time, circumstance, history have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.

The conundrum of color is the inheritance of every American, be he/she legally or actually Black or White… I was trying to locate myself within a specific inheritance and to use that inheritance, precisely, to claim the birthright from which that inheritance had so brutally and specifically excluded me.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: xx
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has been explaining how he came to write Notes of a Native Son. He had not thought of himself as an essayist and he worried that he was too young to publish a memoir, but he was nonetheless eager to explore a sense of his own identity through writing. Here, he frames this goal as an effort to come to terms with his own inheritance while also locating himself within the broader inheritance of America at large. For Baldwin, the “inheritance” of history and national identity is a weighty matter. People must be able to claim their “birthright” in order to move through the world, and everyone is inevitably shaped by the history that preceded them. Furthermore, white people must accept their inheritance of “the conundrum of color,” the legacy of racial violence and oppression that is foundational to America.

On the other hand, Baldwin also notes that people’s lives are not entirely determined by their circumstances. Everyone has the ability to move beyond the dictates of the world into which they were born and shape their own lives to some degree. However, the implication of this passage is that in order to take control over one’s destiny, it is important to fully reckon with one’s inheritance.

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There have been superficial changes, with results at best ambiguous and, at worst, disastrous. Morally, there has been no change at all and the moral change is the only real one. "Plus ça change," groan the exasperated French (who should certainly know), "plus c'est le même chose." (The more it changes, the more it remains the same.) At least they have the style to be truthful about it.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: xx
Explanation and Analysis:

Having explained his desire to explore his “inheritance” through writing, Baldwin notes that disappointingly little has changed in the 30 years between the time at which he wrote the book and the time at which he is writing the new edition’s preface. In this passage, he meditates on the French saying, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The idea that superficial progress masks fundamental consistency/stagnation is central to Baldwin’s theory of social change.

On the surface, much has changed between the 1940s-50s (when he wrote Notes of a Native Son) and 1984 when he writes the preface. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements have theoretically revolutionized the landscape of race relations in the United States; yet here Baldwin challenges this assumption. Although American society may look different in the 1980s than it did 30 years prior, he suggests that this is simply a case of deceptive appearances. Meanwhile, his comment that the French are at least “truthful” about this lack of progress is a subtle indictment of American denial and dishonesty.

Autobiographical Notes Quotes

But it is part of the business of the writer––as I see it––to examine attitudes, to go beneath the surface, to tap the source. From this point of view the Negro problem is nearly inaccessible. It is not only written about so widely; it is written about so badly. It is quite possible to say that the price a Negro pays for becoming articulate is to find himself, at length, with nothing to be articulate about. ("You taught me language," says Caliban to Prospero, "and my profit on't is I know how to curse.")

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has reflected on the different factors that influence his writing style, and lamented the fact that being a black writer is burdened by the writing that already exists on “the Negro problem,” meaning the problem of race relations in the United States. In this passage, he argues that writing on “the Negro problem” is generally bad, and he hints that this is because there has thus far not been room within English language and literature for a proper articulation of racial issues and black subjectivity.

Baldwin presents this argument in a subtle manner, and thus it is easy to misconstrue his meaning. When he claims that “the price a Negro pays for becoming articulate is to find himself… with nothing to be articulate about,” this does not mean that black people are unintelligent or not skilled at communication. Rather, he is alluding to the fact that the language and literature black Americans have inherited is that of their oppressors. White Americans’ modes of expression were not built to incorporate black personhood, as through most of American history white people have consistently strived to deny black people’s humanity. This point is made clear by Baldwin’s citation of an exchange between Caliban and Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the play, Caliban is an (assumedly black) “savage” who is enslaved by the exiled Duke of Milan, Prospero. In the line Baldwin quotes, Caliban protests that the only use he has for the language Propsero has taught him is to curse in complaint about his miserable life.

I was an interloper; this was not my heritage. At the same time I had no other heritage which I could possibly hope to use––I had certainly been unfitted for the jungle or the tribe. I would have to appropriate these white centuries, I would have to make them mine––I would have to accept my special attitude, my special place in this scheme––otherwise I would have no place in any scheme. What was the most difficult was the fact that I was forced to admit something I had always hidden from myself, which the American Negro has had to hide from himself as the price of his public progress; that I hated and feared white people.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has discussed the widespread difficulty in America of writing about “the Negro problem,” which in part stems from people’s desire to avoid looking at the past. He has then described his own painful reckoning with the fact that the aspects of Western culture which he loves and treasures (“Shakespeare, Bach, Rembrandt”) do not belong to him in the same way as they belong to people of European descent. In this passage, he explains that he must acknowledge this detachment while finding a way to make “these white centuries” his own. This is necessary because, as a black American, Baldwin is uniquely cut off from his own ancestral heritage and was born into a country and culture that rejects him on account of his race.

For Baldwin, finding away to “appropriate” white culture in order to develop a sense of his own inheritance and identity requires acknowledging his hatred and fear of white people. At first this might seem paradoxical; if Baldwin is seeking a way to claim white culture, why should he admit to or even embrace his negative feelings about white people? Throughout the book, however, Baldwin insists on the importance of honesty and truth. Understanding his relationship to European culture requires him to differentiate between this culture and people in order to clarify his feelings to himself.

I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin wraps up the “Autobiographical Note” by describing his interests along with things he doesn’t like. This statement, which is taken from the penultimate paragraph of the essay, is one of the most famous lines in all of Baldwin’s work. It emphasizes the fact that Baldwin’s critiques come out of a place of love rather than hatred, which illustrates the close coexistence of love and hatred.

There is also a level of ambiguity in the phrase; although Baldwin loves America “more than any other country in the world,” this could be evidence of Baldwin’s disconnection from other countries rather than enthusiasm about America. However, this quotation is important to bear in mind, particularly in the later essays in the book when Baldwin is discussing his experiences in France. Although France clearly has a great impact on him (and is the country where he chooses to spend most of his life), on some level he maintains emotional loyalty to the country of his birth.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the final line of the Autobiographical Note. Baldwin has explained that he is suspicious of “theories” and that he believes his greatest duty is to “get my work done.” This statement contains the two qualities that Baldwin appears to believe are most important: honesty and dedication to his work. It also emphasizes the way in which they are related; for Baldwin, the desire to be a good writer is intrinsically linked to honesty and, more broadly, to moral virtue. Baldwin holds that writing and writers serve an important role in society precisely because they expose dishonesty and delusion and, in this way, contribute to the eradication of prejudice and oppression.

Everybody’s Protest Novel Quotes

Society is held together by our need; we bind it together with legend, myth, coercion, fearing that without it we will be hurled into that void, within which, like the earth before the Word was spoken, the foundations of society are hidden. From this void––ourselves––it is the function of society to protect us; but it is only this void, our unknown selves, demanding, forever, a new act of creation, which can save us––"from the evil that is in the world."

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

In his critique of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Baldwin has protested that Stowe uses an oversimplified story and characters in order to convey an equally simplistic moral message. He has argued that reality is far more complicated than she depicts and that it is irresponsible for novelists to betray this complexity. In this passage, he discusses the way in which people project false narratives and meanings onto the world in order to avoid the “void” that exists before/without language. In doing so, Baldwin invokes the Biblical idea that nothingness existed before the Word, through which God created the universe.

It may seem ironic that Baldwin, a writer who stresses the importance of conveying truth through language, should argue against “legend” and “myth” in favor of a wordless void wherein the truth lies. However, closer inspection of this passage shows that Baldwin believes writing should be “a new act of creation” that comes out of this void, rather than words that ignore the void in favor of pre-existing false narratives. Only through embracing the void of the unknown and unexpressed can we access the truth.

Many Thousands Gone Quotes

It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story. It is a story which otherwise has yet to be told and which no American is prepared to hear. As is the inevitable result of things unsaid, we find ourselves until today oppressed with a dangerous and reverberating silence; and the story is told, compulsively, in symbols and signs, in hieroglyphics; it is revealed in Negro speech and in that of the white majority and in their different frames of reference… The story of the Negro in America is the story of America––or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans. It is not a very pretty story: the story of a people is never very pretty.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the opening paragraph of “Many Thousands Gone,” Baldwin’s essay about Richard Wright’s novel Native Son. In this passage, Baldwin returns to the idea that black Americans have been prohibited from telling their own stories by white people who are resistant to listen. However, Baldwin also questions the idea that white people can simply choose not to hear black people’s stories. Although white people may wish to claim that African-American narratives are separate (and superfluous) to American culture as a whole, Baldwin contends that “the story of the Negro is the story of America.”

There is no American history, culture, or identity without blackness, despite white people’s determination to excise black people from their image of themselves. Due to this inescapable fact, white Americans will not be able understand themselves, their nation, or their future without listening to black people’s stories.

Our dehumanization of the Negro then is indivisible from our dehumanization of ourselves: the loss of our own identity is the price we pay for our annulment of his.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has argued that the “story of the Negro is the story of America,” and he laments the fact that white Americans have chosen not to listen to this story. Instead, whites think of black people only as a “social problem” to be discussed through statistics and descriptions of poverty and crime. In this quotation, Baldwin reiterates his point that America as a whole must stop thinking of black people as alien and separate from the rest of the country and acknowledge that racist oppression undermines white American identity, as well as African Americans. This is a crucial point within Baldwin’s overall theory of national identity and heritage.

However, note the rather strange phrasing Baldwin employs in this quotation. He claims that “Our dehumanization of the Negro then is indivisible from our dehumanization of ourselves,” suggesting that he is not only addressing a white audience, but he is also himself speaking from a white perspective. This is not the only point in the book in which Baldwin adopts this seemingly white position, and it is one of the aspects of his writing for which he is most fiercely criticized. It is possible that by using “our” and “ourselves” Baldwin is not assuming a white identity, but rather an American identity that is not racially specified. However, even if this is the case it is clear that he is distancing himself from “the Negro” even as he is also arguing against the dehumanization of black people. Unsurprisingly, this has struck some black critics as a kind of betrayal.

We cannot escape our origins, however hard we try those origins which contain the key––could we but find it––to all that we later become. What it means to be a Negro is a good deal more than this essay can discover; what it means to be a Negro in America can perhaps be suggested by an examination of the myths we perpetuate about him.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has argued that Americans no longer believe in many racist myths about black people, such as the idea that black people are biologically destined to be unintelligent. However, he has maintained that there still remains a lack of understanding about what it means to be a black American. In this passage, he reemphasizes his argument that “origins” and inheritance play a fundamentally important role, not only in people’s conception of themselves, but also to their present and future lives.

Under one interpretation, Baldwin seems to be arguing for a determinist view of the world, meaning the belief that people’s history and circumstances shape and decide their futures. However, the rest of the book suggests that Baldwin does not advocate a strict determinist position, but is more focused on examining the way in which people’s inheritance dictates their sense of their own identity.

This passage also contains an important exploration of the possible uses of myth and delusion. While Baldwin identifies the danger of false ideas and narratives, here he suggests that we can look to these falsities as evidence to help us understand black American identity. This does not mean that myths about black people contain an accurate impression of what black people are actually like, but rather that they teach us about the position of black people in America. By understanding what is false, we can begin to understand what is true.

Native Son does not convey the altogether savage paradox of the American Negro’s situation, of which the social reality which we prefer with such hopeful superficiality to study is but, as it were, the shadow. It is not simply the relationship of oppressed to oppressor, of master to slave, nor is it motivated merely by hatred; it is also, literally and morally, a blood relationship, perhaps the most profound reality of the American experience, and we cannot begin to unlock it until we accept how very much it contains of the force and anguish and terror of love.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the end of Baldwin’s critique of Richard Wright’s Native Son. Baldwin has argued that the novel does not go far enough in illustrating the “monstrosity” that can be produced through racist oppression, and he has lamented the fact that the novel’s central character, Bigger, is ultimately “redeemed” by righteous white people. This quotation is crucial to understanding Baldwin’s theory of the relationship of white and black Americans, a relationship he contends is defined by the coexistence of intimacy and hatred. Baldwin argues that it is over-simplistic and false to understand the relationship of white people to black people as one defined purely by hatred and oppression.

This is not because hatred is not an important or relevant aspect of the relationship, but because focusing only on hatred denies the intimacy that has also defined interracial relations. Crucially, Baldwin does not propose that intimacy and hatred are oppositional, but rather that they work together. The intimacy that white people may sense with black people could, in fact, intensify racial oppression, in much the same way that the “blood relationship” between family members makes their feelings about each other more intense.

The Harlem Ghetto Quotes

It seems unlikely that within this complicated structure any real and systematic cooperation can be achieved between Negroes and Jews. (This is in terms of the over-all social problem and is not meant to imply that individual friendships are impossible or that they are valueless when they occur.) The structure of the American commonwealth has trapped both these minorities into attitudes of perpetual hostility. They do not dare trust each other––the Jew because he feels he must climb higher on the American social ladder and has, so far as he is concerned, nothing to gain from identification with any minority even more unloved than he; while the Negro is in the even less tenable position of not really daring to trust anyone.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has argued that there are significant similarities between black people and Jews, who share experiences of persecution and diaspora, but that there are also powerful factors that prevent both groups from forming alliances with one another. In this passage, he further explains this point, arguing that black and Jewish individuals may occasionally form friendships, but that the overall structure of white supremacy in the United States prohibits a broader alliance forming between these two marginalized groups.

This point further emphasizes Baldwin’s examination of the relationship between intimacy and hatred. African Americans and Jews share a kind of intimacy due to their similar history and positioning within the nation, but this intimacy in turn breeds hatred (or at least severe distrust) between the two populations. This passage also highlights the way in which racism as a broad and multifaceted phenomenon works to drive people of different (non-white) races apart.

Notes of a Native Son Quotes

I felt, in the oddest, most awful way, that I had somehow betrayed him. I lived it over and over and over again, the way one relives an automobile accident after it has happened and one finds oneself alone and safe. I could not get over two facts, both equally difficult for the imagination to grasp, and one was that I could have been murdered. But the other was that I had been ready to commit murder. I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of rage brought about by being denied service in a whites-only diner, Baldwin has thrown a glass of water at a waitress and been forced to flee the scene. His white friend assisted him by pointing the police and angry mob in the wrong direction, and in this passage Baldwin expresses his painful and contradictory feelings in the wake of this incident. He feels that he has “betrayed” his friend, and is simultaneously alarmed by his own capacity (and desire) for violence, which he fears could cost him his life. The intimacy Baldwin feels for his friend is thus contrasted with the intense hatred he harbors about white people in general, particularly those who are complicit in racist segregation and oppression.

This passage also underlines Baldwin’s argument that hatred—even well-founded hatred—inevitably harms the person who hates, perhaps even more than the object of hate. He fears that his own hatred will destroy him, not only because of the negative impact it will have on his psyche but also through the very practical fear that he will violently harm a white person, which would lead to his death. Once again, Baldwin shows that the survival and future of black people is implicated in the survival and future of white people, often in unexpected ways.

The Negro’s real relation to the white American…prohibits, simply, anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind––and the heart––that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and, above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that. One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one's own reactions are always canceling each other out.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has discussed the race riot that occurred on the day of his father’s funeral. He has argued that the rage and powerlessness felt by people in the ghetto means that riots are somewhat inevitable, while also pointing out that this rage is somewhat misdirected and becomes self-destructive rather than an assault on the oppressors. In this passage, he discusses the complexity of the relationship between white and black people, arguing that black people do not simply hate white people, but rather feel a complex mix of emotions that in some senses cancel each other out, creating confusion that prevents progress from taking place.

Once again, Baldwin shows intimacy and hatred to be closely related, and he argues that this relationship can be difficult and painful to deal with. If black people felt only hatred or only love toward white people, then change could take place more quickly. Instead, they remain stuck in a precarious balance of self-defeating emotions, which in turn causes them great harm.

Encounter on the Seine: Black Meets Brown Quotes

The African before him has endured privation, injustice, medieval cruelty; but the African has not yet endured the utter alienation of himself from––his people and his past. His mother did not sing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," and he has not, all his life long, ached for acceptance in a culture which pronounced straight hair and white skin the only acceptable beauty.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has described the population of people from French colonies in Africa who live in Paris, noting the difficulties they face, some of which correspond to the oppression of black Americans. However, in this paragraph he proposes that there is also an important distinction between the experiences of Africans and African Americans. Although colonialism is violent and brutal, it does not rob native peoples of their inheritance and identity in the same way that the transatlantic slave trade did to African Americans. Furthermore, black Americans are now effectively stuck in a country that does not accept them, without having a viable connection to the places from which their ancestors originated.

It may seem as if Baldwin is taking a strangely competitive attitude to the respective traumas of Africans and African Americans. However, a more generous reading would suggest that Baldwin is simply trying to clarify the differences that undeniably exist between black people across the world, and to explain why there can be difficulties in black Americans connecting with black people from colonized countries.

Equal in Paris Quotes

No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has explained that he arrived in Paris with only $40 to his name and no knowledge of French language or culture; instead, he had only the vague impression that French people were “an ancient, intelligent, and cultured race.” In this short quotation, he retrospectively remarks that the French paid “a heavy price” for these positive cultural attributes. Although in the present it can seem as if France’s greatness arose of its own accord, in reality the wealth, power, and cultural vibrancy of France is the result of the brutality of colonialism.

This point puts a new spin on the theme of inheritance. While it may seem like white French people’s inheritance of French culture is a neutral, innocent fact, in reality this inheritance is tainted by the suffering and death of colonized peoples, which was executed purely for the benefit of the French.

Stranger in the Village Quotes

Joyce is right about history being a nightmare––but it may be the nightmare from which no one can awaken. People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 166-167
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has described the time he spent staying in a Swiss village which he was the first black person ever to visit. He recalls bristling at the sound of the village children shouting “Neger!” as he walked past. Even though he knows that they are not using this epithet in the same way that American children would, he still feels deeply wounded by it. In this passage, he elaborates on the writer James Joyce’s idea of history being a nightmare. Baldwin’s use of “history” here corresponds to his earlier discussions of inheritance. Nobody can avoid inheriting history, and this inheritance will always be a part of people, shaping who they are, how they behave, and how they understand the world.

Due to the legacy of brutality that has shaped much of world history, as well as the reality of stagnation where there should be progress, this inheritance can often feel like a nightmare. However, if it truly is a nightmare “from which no one can awaken,” perhaps it is time to acknowledge the importance of history in a different way. Is there a way that people can approach history that does not leave them feeling horrified and trapped, but rather accepting of reality and hopeful about the future?

There is a great difference between being the first white man to be seen by Africans and being the first black man to be seen by whites. The white man takes the astonishment as tribute, for he arrives to conquer and to convert the natives, whose inferiority in relation to himself is not even to be questioned; whereas I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even, in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know, who yet do not even know of my existence. The astonishment with which I might have greeted them, should they have stumbled into my African village a few hundred years ago, might have rejoiced their hearts. But the astonishment with which they greet me today can only poison mine.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has described the village’s practice of “buying” indigenous Africans in order to convert them to Christianity. This leads him to think about what it must have been like for the first white men to arrive in villages and Africa, and how this contrasts to his experience as the first black man in the Swiss village. He notes that there is a fundamental difference between the two situations due to the way in which he, as an African-American person, has inevitably been shaped by European culture. Although he might be a stranger to the Swiss villagers, they cannot be a stranger to him. This reality is painful; colonialism and slavery have not only created a fundamental inequality between white people and black people, but also an inevitable lack of reciprocity. Whereas black Americans (and colonized Africans) have intimate knowledge of white people and European culture, the reverse is certainly not the case.

Note that Baldwin’s argument in this paragraph explains why it is nonsensical to discuss “reverse racism” or claim false equivalence between black people and white people. The historical reality of colonialism has left black people and white people not only in different positions, but with different relationships to one another. For this reason, Baldwin cannot enter the village with the mindset of a curious explorer; instead, his appearance as a “stranger” is inevitably traumatic and painful.

There is a great deal of will power involved in the white man's naïveté. Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious, and the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain human remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity and avoid being called to account for crimes committed by his forefathers, or his neighbors.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has been discussing the non-reciprocal relationship between black people and white people; while African Americans are inevitably connected to white people and European culture, white people insist on keeping black people at a distance. In this passage, he argues that white people’s ignorance and disconnection from black people is no coincidence, but rather a forced relation that white people conspire to maintain in order to avoid dealing with the racist crimes of both the past and present. This argument is central to Baldwin’s understanding of the tie between intimacy and hatred, as well as the different ways in which black people and white people deal with inheritance. While African Americans are denied access to their own inheritance, white people embrace some aspects of their heritage while assuming an artificial naïveté or ignorance about the violent aspects of white/European culture.

At the root of the American Negro problem is the necessity of the American white man to find a way of living with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself. And the history of this problem can be reduced to the means used by Americans––lynch law and law, segregation and legal acceptance, terrorization and concession––either to come to terms with this necessity, or to find a way around it, or (most usually) to find a way of doing both these things at once. The resulting spectacle, at once foolish and dreadful, led someone to make the quite accurate observation that "the Negro in America is a form of insanity which overtakes white men."

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has argued that, contrary to popular belief, American ideals did not originate in the United States but were transplanted from Europe; the most important of these ideals is white supremacy. In this passage, Baldwin challenges the assumption that racist oppression is purely motivated by hatred or disdain for black people. Rather, he argues that oppressive acts from segregation to lynching are, in fact, the white man’s attempt to live “with the Negro in order to be able to live with himself.” Once again, Baldwin emphasizes the way in which African Americans are a part of white people’s identity, psyche, and soul. White people may try to separate themselves from black people, but the reality is that the two groups are deeply implicated in one another.

Baldwin has described the harmful psychic impact of racism on black people at length, but here he suggests that black people create a kind of insanity in white people. This is not the fault of black people themselves, but rather it is due to white people’s false ideas and fears about black people, as well as their inability to confront history and the reality of their racist crimes.

The time has come to realize that the interracial drama acted out on the American continent has not only created a new black man, it has created a new white man, too. No road whatever will lead Americans back to the simplicity of this European village where white men still have the luxury of looking on me as a stranger. I am not, really, a stranger any longer for any American alive.

Related Characters: James Baldwin (speaker)
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Baldwin has argued that American society is only beginning to come to terms with the extent of its denial, delusion, and dishonesty about black people and racial difference in general. However, it is already clear that white people who wish to stick to the old racial order and maintain a false naïveté about race are doomed to fail. In this passage, he sets out the central point of his argument in “Stranger in the Village.” White people may hold a desire to return to a state of “innocence” in which black people do not exist (or at least do not exist to them), but this is simply not possible.

This point ties together many of Baldwin’s previous arguments, including the idea that black and white people’s identities are inherently bound up in each other, and history must be confronted in order for there to be a viable, progressive future. It also draws on his argument that the intimacy between white and black Americans can create feelings of hatred and alienation, but that these feelings are ultimately not sustainable and will lead to self-destruction unless white people begin to treat black people as equal and valued human beings.

No matches.