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tv   James Baldwin and Black Lives  CSPAN  June 30, 2015 10:45pm-11:46pm EDT

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one of the most powerful moments was when baldwin almost mourns the southern white human and says that three are a victim in a way of slavery, perhaps even more so than all of the persons that they enslaved, in that their morals, that which makes them init'sly human have a trophytrophiedatrophied. how important would you both say that baldwin's own african-american heritage was to that argument that he made, regarding the horror that he felt for this loss of morality? >> well, to go back to the question about double consciousness, dubois says the american negro has been gifted with double sight. it's a curse but an intellectual blessing. i think we see that. to the extent that we see that baldwin does better in this
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debate it's because he has a vantage point of double consciousness, and in this case i think it allows him to be more generous and to be more empathetic than buckley certainly is able to be. >> i think also i agree and i would also add that for baldwin the language here often uses is of maturity and not being able to evade certain kinds of very difficult truths. and this is a feature of other thinkers as well. one of the most powerful moments in dubois's souls of black folk is where he says it's a terrible thing of being haunted by the ghosts of an untrue dream. he's talking about the lost cause. he knows how horrific it is as a vision, but he also understands that sense of loss. and i think this is where baldwin's emphasis on love. it's more complicated than a purely, other regarding a gothic
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love there's a nur otsic component to it as well, but here's where he reaches a point where he sees the human even in the woman or the man who would treat him inhumanly. >> we go to the young woman who is next to the gentleman who has the question she'll get a chance. the mic was so close. >> my question is also about the, your talk on fatherhood. baldwin is fairly critical of masculinity. he has an essay that's critical of american masculinity as well as giovanni's room which is i have critical of the traditional sense. and i was wondering how you thought that would have influenced his opinions on fatherhood and how you thought particularly this this debate. >> well, part of the way i read giovanni's room is that baldwin goes to europe in part because he's trying to get out, right,
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he's not just trying to escape david. he's not just trying to escape, he's trying to escape questions about sexuality and american masculinity. and much like baldwin would say he finds he's anchored in those american conceptions about race three thought that he could evade. david finds he's anchored in those definitions of masculinity as well. he's in some ways an anguished lover in terms of the way americans think. he's tied to them and defined by them too. >> i can't add to that. it. >> well, they've exhausted their energies in our behalf. so i want to thank you again on behalf of the audience and please join me with that. [ applause ] more american history tv tomorrow with highlights from the c-span cities tour.
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first we journey to key west, florida at 8:00 eastern. then tulsa, oklahoma and st. augustine, florida. later a stopover in topeka kansas. all tomorrow night on american history tv here on c-span 3. the c-span cities tour is partnering with our cable affiliates as we travel across the united states. join us and cox communications this weekend as we learn about the history and lit rary life of omaha, nebraska where the club was one of the first advocacy groups fighting for racial kwlts. >> they had a reputation as a city that when you came in if you were black, you needed to keep your head down and you needed to be aware that you weren't going to be served in restaurants. you weren't going to be able to stay in hotels. and when the de porres club began their operation, the term civil rights -- they used the
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term social justice because civil rights wasn't part of the national lexicon at that time. the idea of civil rights was so far removed from the idea of rights was so far removed from the idea of the greater city of omaha or the united states that they were operating in a vacuum. they were operating without a net. there were not those support groups that were not the prior experiences of other groups to challenge racial discrimination and segregation. >> we look back to the union pacific and how the construction of union station helped omaha's economy. >> union pacific is one of the premier railroad companies of america. it was founded in 1862 with the pacific railway act signed into law by abraham lincoln. so it combined several railroad companies to make union pacific and then they were charged with building the transcontinental railroad that would connect the east and west coast. so they started here, were
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moving west and central pacific started on the west coast and was moving east. and they met up in butagh. that's really what propels us even farther. we become that -- that point of moving west. the gateway -- one of the gateways to the west. >> see all of our programs from omaha saturday at noon eastern on c-span2's "book tv" and sunday afternoon at 2:00 on "american history tv" on c-span3. cuba is the first country in the world to be recognized as the world health organization for eliminating mother to child transmission of hiv and cyfilus. then president obama will announce the opening of the cuban embassy in washington and the u.s. embassy in hava fl a. we'll have that live on c-span at 11:00 a.m. eastern.
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when congress is in session, c-span3 brings you more of the best access to live access to hearings, news conferences and key events and every weekend it's american history tv traveling to historic sites discussions with authors and historians and eyewitness accounts of events that define the nation. c-span3, coverage of congress and american history tv. princeton university professor of religion and african-american studies on james baldwin and race in america. he was the key note speaker at a symposium marking the 50th anniversary between baldwin and conservative william f. buckley. they debated the question has the american dream been at the
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expense of the american negro? this was host eded at college in menenville, oregon. >> it's difficult to imagine this as a key note given the first two panel these morning, right? so i want to add this as my contribution to the conversation. is that okay? it's reflective of my leveling impulses plus the brilliance that has been on display is indicative of what it means to think seriously in public with others. and i just want to join in that effort. i want to thank nick. is his spirit amazing? just -- and that smile, he's constantly smiling. so this is my first time to oregon and it's my first time
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here and i've been literally overwhelmed, literally, patrick, overwhelmed by the beauty of this place. and it reminds me of my own experience when i first got out of graduate clej school. my first job was at bodien college in maine. i'm a country boy from mississippi, my wife is from jamaica. and we were in maine. but it was an amazing experience and i feel that here. so thank you for giving me the opportunity. so this is reflective of some preliminary thinking. some of it is from my new book "democracy in black how race still governs the american soul." some of it was motivated by the conference. so let me just jump in okay?
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and you tell me whether i make sense or not. so this afternoon i want to think about #blacklivesmatter in a different register. one that connects with the extraordinary insights of james or jimmy baldwin. these reflections were triggered by recent citations of baldwin in the context of current protests and serve in a way as a kind of run up to a more extensive engagement with his disturbing book on the atlanta child murders, the evidence of things not seen. there's something about baldwin's attention to the death of those babies that seems relevant to me today. to put it bluntly, jimmy is everywhere. people especially young people, seem to be reaching for him as a way of accounting for the latest disaster, the latest panic around race that has defined this country since its beginning. when you think about the
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protests and the damning reality of deaths baldwin's words come to mind. quote, america sometimes resembles an exceedingly monstrous minstrel show. the same dances same music same jokes. one has done or been the show so long that one can do it in one's sleep, end quote. so to be sure, there is something familiar and wholly unprecedented in the current chaos. now, my thoughts, as i said are preliminary. they are incoate. they reflect my efforts to think about baldwin as a kind of exemplar of tradition that takes a particular shape under the conditions of domination. i want to suggest that #blacklivesmatter reflects this tradition in particularly interesting ways. i will say a bit more about that later.
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and and, of course, against the back drops of the recent deaths in baltimore and the deaths of so many black men and women at the hands of the police, the significance of #blacklivesmatters makes a dinners. circumstances that seem to be a constant feature of what it means to be black in this country and i'm not being hyperbolic here. >> i found myself the other day wishing my son were 7 years old again. he was adorable at 7. the vexation of the teenage years were far off and he still liked me. but i said this not because i find myself having an empty nest unbearable, although at times i do or that i long to raise a
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teenager again and inevitably he would be a maddening teenager again. i just thought, even that he would be safer at home. with us. now, my son attends brown university, but that doesn't matter. he is subject to a kind of procarety that comes with being a black person in this country even with a black man perhaps especially because a black man occupies the white house. at any moment some officer or man could see him as a threat and back of the value or the lack of value he can easily suffer premature death that feature of black life that makes it, among other things, so distinctive. one could think about the fact that premature death as one way of cashing out what we mean by the condition of black living, think about it this way. wb. deboys answered the questions by pointing our attention to the back of a jim crow car.
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but that was only one manifestation of the fact of black living in this country. the underlying reality is that we are all exposed to premature death, death by a thousand cuts. the landlord the land lady. remember baldwin yesterday? right. so if you want to know the meaning of race let's look at the rate of death. exposure to premature death. all of those black parents in public mourning their babies. as you will no doubt recall #blacklivesmatter emerge as a heartfelt ral rallying cry in the aftermath of trayvon martin's death and the acquittal of george zimmer marn in 2012. patrese came up with the hashtag to forcefully assert especially given the contrary evidence, that black people matter. the organization puts it this way, #blacklivesmatters is
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working for a world where black lives are no longer systemically and intentionally targeted for demise, we affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. we've put our sweat, equity and love for black people into a political project taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. the call for black lives to matter is a rallying cry for all black lives striving for liberation, end quote. so #blacklivesmatter works on a number of registers right? so think of it only as an assertion of the value of black lives limits its ames and purposes. it is a mobilizing, it is an organizing tool in this particular moment. it is a form of political critique and an ee voktive imagining of the political my gesture to the political theorists in the room. i don't have the space to vindicate this last claim but i
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think it is important and there's a long footnote to show you that i'm thinking about carl smith here. in fact, to reduce the hashtag's meaning to an assertion of the value of black lives i believe misses the point altogether. even in the previous description, the young women quote, affirm our contributions to society, our humanity and our resilience in the face of -- they are arguing our humanity quote? when we see young people in the street chanting black life matters, it works lion like an incantation. the challenge is not only forms of policing that authorize particular communities, but also current social, political and economic arrangements that cut short the life chances of black people, practices and arrangements that lead to premature death. so to my mind, the hashtag isn't simply about asserting the value of black life that is already known. we shouldn't have to assert our
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humanity in 2015. the price of that ticket to echo baldwin echoing -- has already been paid. you all all right? okay. so hashtag black lives matters registers the unseemly belief and it is a belief based into the dna of this country that white lives are valued more than others. and this, i believe, is at the heart of white supremacy. white supremacy is more than bad people in hooded robes burning crosses and screaming the word nigger. they are the loud races. they choose to let everyone know within earshot what they believe and they are easily condemnable. white supremacy instead looks at the way a society organizes itself and whom it chooses to value. apartheid in south africa jim crow, nazi germany, all of these
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are clearly societies organized by white supremacy. in each case, white life is more valued, it determined where you lived, which schools you attended, what jobs were available to you and reminded you daily of your status and station in life. and to my mind that's what white supremacy is in a nutshell. it boils down to a set of practices. informed by the fundamental belief that white people are valued more than others. now, in no way do we live in a society like nazi germany or apartheid south africa. but we do live in a country where black people confront every day the damning reality that we are less valued. it is experienced in the built environment of this nation. take a look at klarissa hayward's a brilliant book, "how america make race." i'll tell this story as an
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aside. i grew up in a small town and my dad was the second black man to be hired at the post office, thank god for the postal service. it gave me an opportunity to grow up in a middle class family, right? but we lived on the east side of town and so we crossed the tracks and we were the third black family to move in -- into -- up on the hill. and i was playing with a tonka truck with my new neighbor and you remember those old tonka trucks, if you hit your hand with it, it would really hurt. i was playing with my tonka trucks and all of a sudden i heard this voice stop playing with that nigger. and my new friend looks at me astonished, and i grab my truck and i go inside and i tell my father what happened. the first time i had ever been called a nigger. and my father as if the past literally rushed upon him, his eyes ablaze with rage ran
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outside. now, usually but wanted to locate this moment as an example of what happens the moment in which a black family achieves the so-called american dream, a child is wounded by the racial he epi fete of some adult. but actually i had been called a nigger way before we moved into that neighborhood. when i lived on the other side of town they didn't have paved sidewalks. on the other side of town, when it rained hard, it flooded. on the other side of town, those of us who were really good at baseball had to play on a narrow baseball field where the weeds struggled to battle with the bases. on the other side of town, i learned in the very way in which i live my life that something about me was somehow less than. i'm getting ahead of myself. let me get back to the text.
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in no way do we live in a country like nazi germany. but the data is clear, african-americans suffer chronic double digit unemployment. we live in a nation, we lead the nation in rates of heart disease, cancer, hiv aids, african-americans make up nearly 1 million of the 2.4 million americans in prison. when we think about the differences between whites and blackes and high school graduation rates, among those with college degrees mortality rates and access to health care and levels of welt differences in salaries with the same level of education and the percentage of children in poverty, we can see that in this country, independent of individual acts of racism, white people particularly those with money matter more than others. and i'm mindful of aermts arguments like buckley that attribute much of the state of affairs to the pathologies of black people. buckley mobilizes his argument and i said in the footnote here, in response to baldwin by citing
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glazer here, buckley shifts the blame after citing the progress that baldwin himself represents on to the shoulders of black people and baldwin's eyes, as you recall were ablaze upon hearing the nonsense. but answers to -- but he answers this argument clearly, i think in an essay that he wrote in 1964 and that was published in "playboy" entitled "the uses of the blues" he writes, quote the fact that harry belafonte makes as much money as, say, frank sinatra doesn't mean anything in this context. frank can still get a house anywhere and harry can't. when we talk about what we call the negro problem, we are simply evolving means avoiding the facts of this life because in order to face a life like billy holliday's or one like mine, white america has to accept the fact that what he thinks he is he is not, he has to give up, surrender this image of himself
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and apparently this is the last thing white americans are prepared to do. end quote. while buckley is clear about this, he said, if it comes down to america's pressure ideals, they will fight the issue to the death. i want to suggest that we understand black lives matters, the hashtag, as a rejection of this belief pp of white supremacy, that it's not just an assertion that black people matter. more to the point it rejects the belief that white lives are presumed more valuable than black lives. and it is that belief, the view that animates so much of the mess that has undermined democratic life in this country which limits our ability to reach for higher excellences. and i mean this for both black and white americans. our ability to reach for higher excellences. now, i use this language perfectly. i want to think about black lives matters in the tradition of what i'm calling black democratic perfectionism that is a radicalization of black individuality in the service of
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justice. within the movement, we find an incensance on the expansive of black lives on the forefront are black members of the lgttu community and other challenging the state and narrow conceptions of leadership all in the name of a robust form of black individuality and i don't mean some ideal of individualism one might find in turrey's book, if you know who i'm talking about. my model for this view is jimmy baldwin. in hiss say, the uses of the blues, baldwin clearly states what he takes to be the negro problem quote, i'm having talked about what happens to you if having escaped madness or suicide or death or yourself, you watch your children growing up and no matter what you do no matter what you do you are powerless. you are really powerless against the force of the world that is out to tell your child that he has no right to be alive. and no amount of liberal jargon, no amount of liberal jargon and
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no amount of talk about how well and how far we have progressed does anything to soften or to point out any solution to this dilemma. in every generation baldwin writes, ever since negroes have been here every negro mother and father has had to face that child and try to create in that child some way of surviving this particular world, some way to make the child who will be dis despised, not despise himself. i don't know what the negro problem means to white people, baldwin writes but this is what it means to negroes, end quote. remember that moment when baldwin says, you're 15 and then you turn 30 and as a grown man you look at this, but then you look and you look at your son, you look at your daughter, you look at your niece and your nephew and you see in their eyes that they have succumbed to the belief that they are worth less. here baldwin foregrounds the
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idea of white supremacy that i put forward earlier. that the fact of growing up of coming of an age in a place that dense you standing deshorts one's view of yourself and disfigures one's character. it arrests your capacities and in that light it is with great effort and daring and risk that one picks up the task of self-kraegdz in such a world. this is what he tries to convey to william buckley and the young students at cambridge, right? he names it as white supremacy in the context of the debate, but by the time his comments reach the "new york times" that phrase is redacted. an ambiguous pronoun stands in its place saying i have to speak as one of the people who have been most attacked by the western system of reality. it comes from europe. that is how it goes to america. it raises the question of whether or not civilizations can be considered equal or whether one civilization has a right to subjugate, in fact, to destroy. another, apparently naming white
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supremacy was a bit too much for the liberal pages of the new york times. nevertheless, here baldwin insists on a sense of perspective, how the question of who we are gets handled, managed and pursued under adverse conditions matters. it matters that one bears the brunt of the police baton and if one does not. both may be inheritors of ralph waldo emerson's call but the difference matters greatly as baldwin writes, quote, to persuade black boys and girls as we have for so many generations that their lives are worth so much less than other lives and that they can live only on terms dictated to them by other people, by people that despise them, it is worse than a crime. it is the sin against the holy ghost, end quote. and this is -- and it must be said without any concern for hurt feelings or guilt -- this is undeniably white supremacy. so baldwin, for me makes explicit the primal scene of
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instruction. it is a context in which black people are seen as disposable. this scene in all of its messiness casts in relief what stanley calls emersonian perfection perfectionism. we have the taveng before us to ascend to higher norms of excellence. but this task isn't rooted in some fixed destination or final resting place of perfection. he used the image of the spiral stairs going upwards, each step in leaving others blind. that final resting place difference for each person. life's journey consists of better and more excellent versions of who we take ourselves to be. each experience of significance calls us to a higher sense of ourselves and requires the abandonment of older versions. my dear college, jeffrey stout puts its best, quote, the higher self congeels outs of the higher -- or excellence. excellence and sacred value of
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the kinds of glutness that matter most for living well, end quote. but the daunting challenge of seeking a higher erer self in a world that denies one standing. you see, the daunting challenge of seeking a higher self in a world that denies one standing gives new meaning to deboise's cry of two unreconciled strivings that threaten to unhinge. for us, life ain't been no crystal stairs. so to embrace perfectionism across the proverbalal tracks requires something more fundamental, it requires a confrontation with what baldwin calls reality. and reality for him is a denote tafb term for whatever happens in experience the doings and sufferings of people transactioning in environment that result in joys and precisely because white people are seen as more valuable than us.
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a few that distorts who they take themselves to be. and every time we interact with them baldwin suggests we have to risk ourselves. baltd win asouthwest certificates perfectionism in such a context -- are you all all right? i want to check on you. i've got a little baptist preacher in me. are you all right? all right. i went to morehouse, after all. baldwin asserts a form of perfectionism in such a context and that assertion requires an encounter with the ugliness of who we are and a rejection of comforting illusions that hide the lie and all of the rot. both obscure the goodness that matters because our moral and ethical senses are so profoundly distorted. as baldwin put it coat, american white men are not
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prepared to believe my version of the story to believe that it happened. in order to believe that, they have set up in themselves a fantastic system of evasions denials and justifications which system is about to destroy their grasp of reality which is another way of saying their moral sense, end quote. now this adds another layer of xlxty to the context of the black democratic perfectionism he commends. it is not just white supremacy. it is not just the fact that life as it is in this country says over and over again to the black child of 15 and to the black woman of 40 that you are less than. and it says there in every possible way. it is the maddening fact that the country denies what it has done and continues to do to black people. a kind of willful ignorance. wolfe blitzer could report on ferguson and said i can't believe this is happening in 20th century america and a few months later report on baltimore and he said i can't believe this is happening in 21st century
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black america. huh? as if baltimore or ferguson is somehow a surprise. just as harlem and watson and detroit were shocking some 50 years ago. the innocence is the crime, as baldwin noted and the corroborates what he americanslessly described as the monstrous quality of this place. quote, there is something monstrous about never having been hurt -- i'm about to cry -- never having been made to bleed, never having lost anything never having gained anything because life is beautiful. and in order to keep it beautiful, you're going to stay just the way you are. and you're not going to test your theory against all the possibilities outside. america is like that. the failure on our part to accept the reality of pain of anguish, ambiguity of death has
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turned us into a sometimes monstrous people. we're the lost boys in never neverland, refusing to grow up. so the reality of white supremacy and its repeated evasion or outright denial makes the idea of abandoning older versions of ourselves [ expletive ] near impossible. we seem to be comfortable right where we are. trying to give content to the trap. but for black folk, especially those who languish in the shadows of american ghettos to stay right where we are means to surrender to death. so baldwin's insistence on reaching for higher forms of excellence under captive decisions demands an unflinching encounter with the uses and boos of the past. he wroes, quote, history has nearly no one seems to know is not merely something to be read. and it does not refer merely or even practice landlord to the
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past. on the contrary, the great force comes from the fact that we carry it within us. are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways in history. it's literally present in all that we do. he continues, i could scarcely be otherwise since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities and our aspirations and it is with great pain and terror that one begins to realize. it's in great pain and terror one begin toes assess the history one is placed where one is informed one's point of view, in great pain and terror because thereafter one enters into battle with that historical creation one's self in attempt toes recreate one's self in accordance with a principal more humane and more liberating. just as an asine side, baldwin is doing this as ae grappleing with his own stepfather's rage. i was talk about you have to -- well, anyway, we can talk about it over q&a.
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such an approach to history requires a black self in particular that isn't reduceble to sociology. those flat statistics and stereotypes that trap americans in the farce that is race relations. i'm not talking about that version of the story that trades in the willie hortons and bigger thomass, the wealth there cleans the thugs of the world those black people who are natively criminal or because of their woeful circumstances destined to be criminal. i'm not talking about that. instead, black democratic perfectionism requires a self-with a rich and complex infear orty right? what william james refers to in the varieties of religious experience as that two storied self- self-an interior that has been terribly wounded by what tony morrison describes as a nastiness that will dirty you on
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the inside. so you see the difficulty. baldwin demands perfectionism in a history that denies black selves any stand in. he demands -- in a world that reduces us to flat predictable characters and nair raves its history to such description. both are bound up constrained of an idea of history that corroborates the lie that some people matters more than others. but, again, this is not some preoccupation, some private affair without public consequences. black democratic perfectionism has radical implications for the order of things. as jimmy puts it quote when a black man or woman i would ask whose destiny and identity have always been controlled by others decides and states that he will control his own destiny and rejects the identity given to him by others, he can talking
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revolution, end quote. so when those young people in baltimore decide that they're not going to commit themselves to the state of living, right they're not going to resign themselves to this any longer, they are stepping out of the orbit in which they have been assigned. and the moment we start doing that all hell breaks loose in this country. every single time. i'm getting carried away. baldwin's witness about what kind of society we hope to live in and what kinds of person we aspire to be as well as claims rooted in care about the historical depths of where we now stand. that is about the enduring legacy of white supremacy that deformities self-formationes and about the history of struggle that constitutes the back drop of current efforts.
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his democratic perfectionism is situated in the histories of black lives in particular and american life more generally. stories that narrate the litany of events and the chorus of voices. black voices. these histories carry with them an ethical ott that the struggle and sacrifices of so many require of those who are to be immediate been fisheries. that's all of us. a commitment to treating one's fellows justly and to ensuring a society where all can flourish. that is a society in which all of us can reach for higher excellence. in vocationvocations of that horn -- i'm coming home. invocations of that historic can spur as the wind beneath our wings with the creative engagement of the present or
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they can limit the range of actions to a still ostracized set of practices that keep us right where we are. baldwin's democratic perfectionism commends the former. he insists that we look at our experiences squarely in the face and challenge directly the idea that white people matter more and that they can create a world that is comfortable with the senseless death of black people. now, remember white people isn't the kind of antrological category. it's a political attitude. it's an orientation to the world. black people is a condition of living defined by the experience of premature death. now, to my mind black lives matters, at its best, works in
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this register. young people all around the world are challenging the underlying assumptions of white supremacy. they are putting their bodies on the line disturbing the peace and asking hard questions and taking very rude positions, end quote. this is what our moment requires. turning our backs on the status quo and demanding what dr. king called a revolution of values, a revolution of what we actually care about. but it also requires that we abandon older versions of ourselves, from political engagement and confining ideas of black community and obligation. we can no longer suffer from what i want to call catalipsis, that political condition characterized by rigidity and fixity of posture. it paralyzes us keeps us where we currently are and allows for a black political class to exploit that fixed position in
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the name of progress and desensitizes us to the pain and terror of what it means to be black in this country. in short, it is that condition which keeps us trapped. but these young folks today are daring to break free. with all the complications that daring and risk tell. they are asserting the uniqueness and distinctiveness of their own voices. in short, they are daring to be and that if i understand baldwin correctly, that is a revolutionary act in this country. as he put it in a short piece written in 1959 titled, quote, a word from writers directly to reader, quote, what the times demand and in an unprecedented fashion is that one be, not seen but one be outrageous, independent, annarchical that
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one be thoroughly disciplined as a means of being spontaneous, that one resist at whatever cost the fearful pressures placed on one to lie about one's experience, end quote. to my mind, black lives matter at its best in formulation courageously and to take a phrase from henry james that baldwin loves, they act at the pitch of passion. thank you. >> so we now have time for some questions. please raise your hand high and wait for the microphones to come to you so that the c-span folks can pick up your comments.
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>> hello. thank you so much for that speech. so speaking on a very intimate like, personal and domestic level and starting at a very young age, if a young black girl or boy must one day, if they have any chance of being liberated at least intimately and individually but their parents have not reached this liberation themselves from the very real reality in america that black lives don't matter as much as white lives how does a young man or woman without the help of their parents, do this? and going back to fathers and the importance of fathers. if they have no way to show their children a reality in which black lives, as they truly do, matter equally as much as anyone with different complexion, how does a young boy or girl go about doing this
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before they hit being a teenager and going to high school and really being told that they don't matter as much as their white fellow students? >> that's a great question. and consistent with who you are. it happens in spite of. it happens in communities. it happens in the fugitive pockets, right where your humanity is confirmed and affirmed. where you acquire the resources to begin the work of self-creation. it's hard. remember in the -- baldwin is saying everyone is -- they hit a certain age and earn is trying to figure out what they're going to do because they see what awaits. and remember, he runs into the church and he called it a gimmick. right? it's -- it's his illusion. to invoke eugene o'neal, i can't
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taste my liquor hicky right? so we find these resources, right, in spite of baldwin actually refers to these folk as spiritual aristocrats in our midst. how do they muster up the resources and the energy to be in the way that they've been? right? how do we -- where do these kids come from who went to little rock? where do these kids -- where do they show up right? the kids who showed up in birmingham. those kids, 18 and 17 and 19 that's how old buckley was when they left howard and went to the bows of the south. so there are resources that are had that i can find. so, for example, my relationship with my father has been complex. i was allude to go this earlier. and it's been complex because he
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will to navigate mississippi. so he's rageful. and i didn't use the past tense. but there was some love that was engulfing in the midst of it all, that was enveloping. it became the cocoon out of which i could at least find some resources. so i don't want to paint a desert. right? but i do want to paint the conditions under which the difficult conditions under which rose ves to bloom. does that make sense? that's my reference to tupac. does that answer the question? >> yeah. cool. well, there are a lot of points regarding feelings of white guilt, the problems with white independence, white supremacy, a distorted image of self and the
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concepts of privilege. and a lot of people will and do say that i am the problem and a lot of white people that come from privilege the problem. and i know a lot of white people, including myself, who have the desire to help to be an ally to fight for the cause of equality, but at times it's difficult to reconcile that with the feeling of being the enemy or the problem at times. how should i and other people handle that feeling? is it not my right to feel that way? and how should i be involved in the cause as a person who sometimes seen as the issue? >> thank you for that question. and i'm trying to figure out how to answer it. because it's been asked since we were snatched and brought over here. i can imagine how many times douglas had to answer that question.
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how many times andrew cooper had to answer that question. malcolm and martin and miss baker, right? it seems to me that part of what has to happen is that for us to understand that whiteness is a particular political position that we occupy, right? that white supremacy is a particular why would ideology, that has at its core the belief certain people are valued more than others. and that part of what we have to do is engage in a relentless critique of that at every turn. that there is no necessary relationship between who you are, right and you standing and an idea of being a white person. does that make sense? are you sure? i'm not sure it makes sense. so i'm trying to -- what i'm
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trying to suggest is that there has to be these moments where we -- we relentlessly critique -- and this is what i'm learning from jimmy every day. we relentlessly critique, right a frame of reference that accords certain people standing and denies others. right? and that's not about guilt, right? it's just about confronting the reality of what fundamentally organizes this place called america. right? and it's not my task, right to give you the resources to do that. it's not my task to afford you a moral holiday because you can go about feeling good about yourself in your alliance in that struggle. i can't do that any more. it's part of the dance. right? so what we are to do is kind of just engage in that difficult
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work, right? confronting daily the reproduction or the consequences of the belief that some people are valued more than others. it's not helpful. i just didn't want to sound like malcolm, you know what i mean? that was my instinct. no, i'm just kidding. it's a hard question though. >> my question is do you think the problem will ever be solved of this? somebody's life is valued more and how long do you believe it might take before this problem is, in a way, solved? >> i have to believe. you know, i'm amelirous to invoke that word that bill buckley invoked. i'm amealus so i'm not an
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optimist. the pessimist is just the optimist who pitched his ideals too high, right? so i'm neither an optimist nor a pessimist. i don't have this idea that this is the best of all possible worlds nor am i sitting in my classroom drinking sherri declaring it all goes to hell. i believe salvation is contingent upon us, what we do. right? it's in our hands right? as baldwin would paraphrase, jimmy, we're sons of [ expletive ] and miracles at the same time. so it's what we do. and it requires an honest assessment of where we are, an honest assessment. i can't -- and i can't go about the work of making anyone feel
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comfortable any more. i can't do that. right? it's -- it's part of the dance. so we have to tell the truth. we have to look the facts of our experience squarely in the face because it's in our hands. and if we continue to buy into the illusions that hide the rot, then we can't confront the rot, right? we can't confront it. so we have to tell the truth. right? tell the truth and whatever follows from that follows from that. and i can say that. some people say, well you can say that because you have tenure at princeton you're privileged, yes, that's true. but we have to -- we can no longer dance to that. so it's in our hands. now what does that mean in terms of timetable? i'm not sure. it's a long distance run.
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i see -- i see what baldwin related. i see knit my own son's eyes. what does it means when police officers in providence stop him as he's doing an ethnographic assignment in a rich park and they pull up on him and say, what are you doing here? who are you and why are you here? and he says i'm doing an assignment assignment. i'm a brown student and i'm doing an assignment. and the other cop comes around and tell him the park closes at 9:00. he says, yes, sir, i understand but it's just 7:30. and then the other cop says the park closes at 9:00 and he puts his hand on his gun or his taser and my son has to put his hands up. and he calls me. this is the same day, the same day i got a call saying i was the new president of the american academy of religion. same day. and he's asking me what -- you
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can hear his voice. and the only thing i can tell him is just imagine if you had a different zip code how often you would experience that. right? tell the truth. thousands scars we die by a thousand slashes every day. that's melodramatic. no, it isn't. it's the truth. is this what i was supposed to do? >> maybe you could -- this question is really a request for maybe a little more on one thing you touched on briefly. but i know there's more there. and maybe you can come to us further by addressing this. you said maybe possibly because a black man occupies the white
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house. and i'm thinking about that jiflt r just loosely in terms of the powerful theme of american innocence and the, you know are we going to grow up here ever question. i don't know if those two things are closely related in your mind but if you could just give us a little more of that, i think it would be great. thanks for the talk. >> sure. in my new book, "democracy in black" there's an extensive critique of president obama and black liberals and extensive description of what i'm calling the great black depression is that we're in crisis as folk are talking about recovering, even with the new unemployment data we know that those numbers are -- whether we drill down, we see people who have fallen out of the labor.
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there are ways we can give you a really dark picture of what's happening. like on the underbelly of american society and it's happening under the cover of a kind of post racial moment. and people have given up on that phrase, but under the kind of guise that we are turned the corner with the election of president obama. but what's interesting is that with his election the dance has gotten -- has gotten even more intense. because we haven't been able to talk about that crisis at any level of detail. because of how he's constrained around the issues of race, right? so his was of the constraints were of his own doing or whether they're not, the fact is that african-americans can't participate in the deliberative process in the saim same way as other constituencies.
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so when we want to talk about the ways in which since 2008 our communities have been devastated, right, when we want to talk about the particular ways in which single payor health care would have benefited our communities disproportionately the way in which we want to talk about what a jobs program might have looked like, what a real serious jobs initiative might have looked like in this particular area of the united states, we kept getting the response, i'm not the president of black america. i'm the president of all america. and you said nobody asked you if you were the president of black america. right? we're asking as a constituency that voted for you at 90%. what can you do with regard to this crisis? but everything wag constrainted right? and particularly in these sorts of moments of break through right, when you have at that level a break through first, there's all sorts of rot all
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sorts of things happen underneath construction happens underneath. and so what we've witnessed over the last eight years right of not just simply the amplified voices of loud racist, as patrick mentioned with regard to obama, but what we've seen, right, is a deepening of social misery, right within these communities. and what has been really mean spirited about it is that -- let me use -- i used the phrase in the book what we've seen as the privatization of social misery. right? so that we can't even talk bit without attribution of blame, right? that it's their fault that it's our fault that it's my fault. and that's not trying to say that it's only forces, right determining outcomes right? but if you have a society that's arranged and organized in such a way where certain people are valued more than others no matter what you input, the
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output is going to be the same. it's going to generate these differ republican i can't tellal outcomes in every snal instance. is that a -- >> yeah. >> answer one more question? >> i'll be shorter with the answer. maybe we can get two if you have any more. don't be mad at me please. no, i'm just kidding. >> the part of this speerch that really spoke to me was stepping out of orbit and refusing and especially relating to the events in ferguson and baltimore recently which baldwin would call revolutionary acts. and this brought up the dialogue that i've been having lately in which i hear a repeated phrase of there's a better way. and there always seems to be the kind of block in the dialogue when i'm having it.
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and i wonder what's the better way that people are referencing? and now hearing this speech, i can't help but think it's just a beckoning to step back into orbit. so i wonder, your thoughts on this dialogue and if you're there, you know, how do you respond to this person? and the r is there an answer? if not, what do you see to him? >> thank you. i wish i could show you the chill bumps, you know? you guys are -- it's in your hands in so many ways. i usually respond in this way. you know there's a line that i often attribute to emerson where he says, god speaks to us through our imagination. and whenever i say ta to my students, i then follow up with the question if that's true, then what is the devil doing? so the answer is that the devil is trying to restrict our imaginations, trying to occupy, kind of limit what we can see, what we can imagine.


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