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tv   James Baldwin and American Political Thought  CSPAN  July 1, 2015 1:10am-2:31am EDT

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are bigger things than that. and the funny irony to me is there are areas in which the majority does not get to rule. and they have to do with individual rights. rindquist didn't agree. he thought no majority is always going to decide what e the minorities rights are. but there are sides that transcend majority rule. buckley wasn't interested in those. that's individual rights. equality are individual rights. they do not always succumb to majority rule. but that's not what he's interested in. he's interested in these kind of higher claims of civilization which i think he kind of tried to investnt in his own posture and way of talking and debate and all this stuff. but it's a funny thing because he's making a huge claim on some gigantic absolute. but it's not really one we all necessarily share.
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so i do think there's a conflict there, but i don't think he's like giving up the idea of a claim to some sort of absolute. i just don't know what it is. >> what about that quotation which each of us gave a version of it, didn't we? in my version, he says the white community's entitled to prevail politically because for the time being, anyway, the leaders of american civilization are white. so he isn't saying they're destined to be the leaders because of their whiteness. he's saying at the moment they just happen to be. >> that's right. in the version i have he says not that the leaders are white but that the white race is for the time being the advanced race which is a slightly different statement to make, actually. that's right. you know, and for the time being and that gets into this whole thing i'm talking about. again, i think it's kind of a fantasy that segregation could be used as a way of imposing superiors for a way for the
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negro to evolve or come up out of this backwardness. you know, i just -- in the end to me it's not about trying to pin racism on william f. buckley jr. or on anyone or even to say like, i'm not making the argument no. conservatism is now racist as it ever was because that's not what i'm talking about. it's more how that line of -- what he said there can be used to seem like, well, see, he's against segregation. he wants it to go away. but the terms in which he looks at that are so revealing to me. who's going to -- if you believe that white people are superior, you're going to give them the keys to the kingdom and let them decide when it's time to share the keys. who's in charge of that? in buckley's world it's almost sort of buckley's in charge of that. and i find that revealing of his line of thought as it reflects on how conservatism has developed until today so we get some of the things he called for
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in his early work actually happening now in the supreme court. and again, i'll underscore the fact those people are on the court for not ideological -- but they don't use any of the same basis for making these moves he called for. i think that's more revealing as a historical process. and it's painful, but it's more revealing as a historical process than trying to say that buckley did or did not have racist ideas or develop a way from them. what's actually happened seems to me to be what to look at to then kind of retro reverse engineer like the ideology from the facts. what's the real ideology? you know? i don't know but that's the effort that i think is interesting. >> we have time for one more question.
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>> what role do you think his views played about his thought on freedom? >> william buckley was a catholic and he was serious about his religious views. i think when his brother-in-law rebuked him for not taking the civil rights movement seriously enough, he took that to heart and did rerise his views. he also said some interesting things about religion in the context of the cold war. he said because we in the soviet union are threatening each other with nuclear annihilation, we're actually in the stronger position, we as christians because we believe in life after death whereas they don't. so if it came do the point, we're much more likely to tiptoe all the way to the brink and go over the brink with a sure promise of eternal salvation which the russians don't have. they're more likely to back away from it than we are.
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>> i yield to you on that. >> okay. we're going to have a half hour break. and during that break around the corner here to the left in the reading room there are refreshments available and at 11:00 a.m. we will reconvene for our next panel which will be more focused on baldwin but have a little buckley as well. in addition during the break i'd encourage you to check out the book table and see some of the books that these scholars have written. they're all very fascinating and worth checking out. and i want you to join me in thanking patrick and bill for a wonderful first panel. [ applause ]
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several live events dealing with health care coming up. in advance of the third open enrollment for the affordable care act, hosting a discussion on who is is still uninsured and why they don't have coverage. that's at 11:00 a.m. eastern on c-span2. now what happens now that the supreme court decided for helping to afford health insurance? will there be more legal challenges and how will the ruling affect health care? from politico, the discussion happens here on c-span 3. and later obama will speak about health care live from a school in nashville, tennessee. that's expected to get underway at 2:30 p.m. on c-span. here are just a few of our featured programs for the three-day holiday weekend on the c-span networks. on c-span friday night at 8:00
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eastern, radio personalities and executives at the annual talkers magazine conference in new york. saturday night at 8:00, an interview with "new york times" chairman and publisher and executive editor on the future of "the times." and sunday night at 9:30 eastern, members of the church committee. walter mondale and gary hart on their ground-breaking efforts to reform the intelligence community. on book tv on c-span2 friday night at 10:00 eastern, author martin ford. saturday night at 10:00 on afterwords history professor carol berkin. and sunday, live at noon on in depth, join our three-hour conversation with best-selling author and government accountability institution peter
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schweitzer. and friday evening at 6:30, the 70th an verse oianniversary of united nations. saturday night at 8:00, hear a brooklyn college classroom lecture on the war and how supplies and timing often influenced the outcomes of major battles. and sunday afternoon at 4:00 on real america, a look back at a 1960 film featuring actor and performer joe brown about a nationwide search for old circus wagons and the circus world museum's efforts to restore them. get our complete schedule at this year marks the 50th anniversary of a 1965 cambridge
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union debate between author james baldwin and william f. buckley. next university of virginia professor lawrie balfour and susan mcwilliams examine the political perspectives and debate performance of both baldwin and buckley. linfield college hosted the symposium and this panel is just under 90 minutes. >> my name is barbara seidman and i'm a professor of english here at linfield college with the delightful responsibility of guiding us through this session on james baldwin's political ideas. our mode of operation will be straightforward. both of our speakers will spend about 30 minutes presenting their thoughts on the subject at hand and afterwards we will have a brief question and answer period. we will wrap up at about 12:15 to allow our guests and all of you to move to the austin
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reading room which is to our left -- my left your right. where our keynote speaker will present his talk at 12:30 over lunch. our schedule is tight and i for one am eager to hear what our panelists have brought to share with us. let me begin by introducing dr. lawrie balfour. our first speaker this morning is dr. lawrie balfour on i hadmy left, your right who teaches at the university of virginia. she is the author of two monographs. democracy's reconstruction thinking politically with dew boiz from oxford university press. and the evidence of things not said, james baldwin and the promise of american democracy from cornell university press. dr. balfour has also published several articles and chapters on african-american political thought, politics, and literature and democratic theory. her current book project considers reparations for slavery and jim crow as a
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democratic idea. professor balfour has held fellowships from the center of study for values at harvard divinity school, and the national endowment for the humanities. a recipient of multiple teaching awards, she was visiting associate professor for distinguished teaching at princeton in 2008 and '09. she now serves on the board of politics groups and identities. in addition dr. balfour was director of fellowships at the carter g. woodson institutes from 2011 to '13. we are very happy to have her here with us this morning at linfield to present her paper "hideously loaded: james baldwin's history of the american dream." please join me in welcoming her. [ applause ]
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>> good morning. i want to begin by thanking nick the students, the staff, and the faculty at linfield for the invitation to be here this week. and especially to thank nick for the chance -- giving me a chance to return to baldwin's words with a kind of intensity and focus that i had not had for some time. and it's a real gift. the american dream has been at the expense of the american negro. when james baldwin took to the podium to speak in favor of this proposition at the cambridge union in february 1965, he noted that the evening's question was hideously loaded. how was it hideous and in what way was it load snd to begin with baldwin began with whether he and william f. buckley could debate at all.
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for baldwin sparring appeared unlikely. much less like anything like conversation or democratic deliberation. because the proposition was un unintelligible. accordingly baldwin gave up the pretense of converseing with the enemy and fashioned himself not for the first time as a kind of jeremiah. whether baldwin's performance is best described as prophetic there's no doubt it carried the day. not only did he win the debate by a wide margin, but he earned a rare standing ovation from the cambridge audience. what precisely baldwin won, however, is more difficult to assess. indeed one of the striking features of the debate is the degree to which elements of buckley's argument points that baldwin spent a 40-year career trying to discredit still circulate. although in amended form in
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contemporary public discourse. revisiting the encounter with buckley 50 years ago reveals fiercely defended assumptions that appear discomfortingly familiar in what has been called our post-racial age. to illustrate i'll draw upon both baldwin and buckley's spoken remarks. and i should note there are some discrepancies between the two. we've had some conversation about how to determine sort of what the authoritative text is in this case but where it matters i'll note what i'm drawing upon. one striking feature of baldwin's remarks is his creative use of the word expense. indeed the 1965 debate provides a forceful reminder that a writer who was often best remembered for his demanding conception of democratic love and who was described by henry lewis gates as someone who was a
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master of the rhetoric of fiction and the essay that is at once henry jamesian and king jamesian. the same writer was also a master of economic metaphors and a keen critic of economic history. my comments will focus on baldwin's unpacking involved in the american dream and will proceed in three sections. first, settling accounts reads baldwin's and buckley's speeches against each other of what they both describe as reality. second i'll consider the debt that baldwin ascribes to white americans and contrast it with the language of indebtedness that has been in white minds. and third i will suggest how elements of buckley's american dream and baldwin's descent have been reimagined in recent works by coates and rankeen.
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although baldwin spoke first when he and buckley met and thus cannot be said to replying directly to buckley, their debate has an unsettling feature. buckley who has the advantage of having heard baldwin's words and who makes reference to his published writings seems not to have listened at all. he is more to perform his argument about the brutality of white american. recalls baldwin's observation about the behavior of american tourists in europe. and here i quote, they walked over the european waiters and others with the same sort of bland ignorance and condescension. the charm and cheerfulness with which they had patted me on the head and which made them upset
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when i was upset. the gesture baldwin notes is dangerous. the kind of reckoning to realize a promise of free and equal citizenship. it performs a kind of caring that demands from the other suppression of his or her rage no matter how justified or deeply felt pain. so see what i mean, let's consider three kinds of costs as they emerge from baldwin's and buckley's raemarks. the cost to black americans. the cost to white americans of 400 years of racial domination. and the cost in democracy itself. when baldwin and buckley addressed the price african-americans have paid for white supremacy the chasm between their interpretations is revealing. baldwin of the country to which is your birthplace and you owe
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your life and identity and has not evolved any place for you. his use of the second person here and his emphasis on broad systemic sources of what he calls the trap of feeling one's worthlessness both draw upon personal experience and make something of that experience that transcends the autobiographical. and we can see if you watch the debate how he modulates his gestures to convey the point of his words. but it's never exclusively about his own life. nor is it exclusively about psychic harms. instead it is also historical and political. structurally, for example, baldwin discerns the ways that the city of new york expresses its disregard for black lives through public building projects
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that develop gleaming new residential and office spaces while confining black americans to the ghettos. he exposed the deceit with the language of urban renewal which means in his words that some negros are going to be thrown out into the streets. historically baldwin challenges the proposition that africa has no history and he unpacks the faux historical narratives he himself once embraced of gary cooper is the good guy killing off the indians. baldwin's speech also offers a political critique in which he notes the concentration of electoral power in the hands of segregationists and the political significance for black americans of the emerging counterimage of independent african nations. buckley like baldwin begins with the personal noting baldwin's copious protest and the contempt
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he eloquently showers upon us. the implication i think, is is that racial injustice is baldwin's problem. a product of a hyperactive imagination and an impatient temperament. despite buckley's individualization of the harms of racism and their overcoming, furthermore furthermore, he suggests this is beyond the point. here i quote. the fact your skin is black is utterly irrelevant to the arguments you make. is relevant o in buckley's view? rather than complaint and abstraction. here's how buckley presents the historical evidence. he notes and this is in the pub established transcript which appeared in "the new york times." and not i think in the filmed version that we watched yesterday where buckley notes that the amount of blood that was shed to emancipate the irish from the british far outstripped even ten times the number of
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african-americans limpblynched. the purpose of this deflationary gesture, it seems is to prevent the audience from being distracted from southern extremists and to understand that what buckley calls psychic humiliation that is endured by baldwin and his people that's buckley's term, are the product of evil but fundamentally aberrational circumstances. thus buckley both personalizes baldwin's critique raising the question of whether baldwin's too sensitive to offer a fair assessment of the american dream, and instructs the audience not to pay attention to his pain. the real cost to black americans in buckley's view appears to be that we americans have failed to speak frankly. and to encourage baldwin and his people to direct their particular energy to the worthy goal of taking advantage of their good fortune of living in
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what buckley calls the most mobile society in the world. when baldwin and buckley turn to the cost of white americans the gap yawns wider. echoing frederick douglass' views to slave owners, baldwin meditates on the impact of the gratuitous violence and terror on the men who wield cattle prods and gun who is maintain order in the american south. and here i quote, something awful must have happened to a human being to be able to put a cattle prod against a woman's breasts. what happens to the woman is ghastly. what happens to the man who does it is in some ways much, much worse. and baldwin goes on to interrogate the consolation through which poor white southerners would take living conditions in exchange for the compensation of not being black. to the degree to which it
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ignores baldwin's comments and embodies them. in buckley's world the cost born by white americans appear in some regards to be those of inconvenience. for example, you cannot go to any university in the united states in which practically every other problem of public policy is not preempted by the primary concern for the negro. others involve the dangers of living under the threat of black war against american civilization. buckley's use of pronouns set the terms for that conflict. the we in his address is white americans. baldwin should be addressing quote, his own people. by contrast, baldwin's use of the we to encompass black and white americans both in the cambridge union speak and across his career demonstrates that this is what he has been doing all along. despite these clear differences, the most significant for
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thinking about the ongoing meanings of the debate maybe the divergent understandings they present about the past and future course of american civilization. american civilization for buckley is not the cause of slavery or its successor regimes, but an explanation for their overcoming. what then will eliminate the wrongs that buckley himself conquers are evil? quote, the good nature, the generosity and good wishes, the decency that do lie in the spirit of the american people. sounding a little bit like a 20th century version of herman melville's captain delano, buckley repositioned baldwin as the murderously rebellious slave. like delano, buckley appears unable to comprehend that black men and women might value their liberty as much as he does. and he seems unaware of the degree to which gestures of friendship, generosity and
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familial reflection have been a vital currency of white supremacy. obviously, buckley proclaims, the first step toward eliminates eliminating racial discrimination is concern. we've got to care it happens. i should note that in the written version of the text this occurs about three paragraphs after his comparative account of the significance of lynching. here we have buckley's recipe for the american dream. equal parts american good will and african-american effort. the catch is that he presumes the former to have been well established historically and the latter to be lacking. in the next section i'll consider baldwin's response. perhaps the most famous moment in the storied meeting takes place when baldwin makes the following declaration. and this is that moment that patrick talked about at the beginning of his remarks this morning. here's baldwin. we speak about expense. there are several ways of addressing one's self to some
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attempt to find out what that word means here. from a very literal point of view, the harbors and the ports and the railroads of the country, the economy especially in the south could not conceivably be what they are if it had not been for cheap labor. i'm speaking very seriously and this is not an overstatement. i picked the cotton. i carried it to market. i built the railroads under someone else's whip for nothing. for nothing. when i first encountered those words in baldwin's essay on the american dream and the american negro, i found them offputting. uncharacteristically hyperbolic. how would baldwin have literally picked the cotton? yet rereading persuaded me that i was wrong. and watching baldwin's delivery which is riveting on the screen as it surely must have been in person forces a still deeper
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engagement with his claims than i was first able to undertake. what could he mean? even though baldwin a child of harlem did not see cotton fields until he traveled south to fight for civil right, he understood the degree to which his heritage depended on the unrewarded labor of black women and men. while his point is to say white americans are endebted to these men and women to a far more substantial degree than has been acknowledged, he also captures a truth about the black bodies and their value as instruments of capital. further, baldwin's insertion of his own biography about a narrative about bondage and economic development offers a counterchronology to what charles mills calls white time. it exposes and undercuts a deferral of change. we had the 15th amendment nearly 100 years ago, baldwin notes.
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if it was not honored then, i have no reason to believe that the civil rights bill would be honored now. the force of baldwin's for nothing is amplified by buckley's remarks especially when the latter addresses the income gap in the u.s. down playing the negro prevail he said my grandparents worked hard. i don't know of anything that has been created without the expense of something. surely buckley's ancestors did work hard. but baldwin crystallizes in a few sentences a sweeping history of enslavement and american economic development that both discredited the equation of slavery with hard work and reorients the audience to see that the enslaved african-americans built the modern united states and indeed the entire modern world in ways both obvious and hidden. and that last quotation -- that last comment is a quotation
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edward baptist's recent book "the half has never been told." among the hidden elements is the savage efficiency of the lash which accounted for both the rise in productivity of the cotton kingdom by extracting more work from individual laborers and the rethetoric of endebtedness and to fall short of an owner's expectations was to renege on what was owed. hartman calls the burdened individuality of freedom refigured black personhood through norms of responsibility that could never be fulfilled. and the freed men and women themselves became citizens and debtors. the future for both buckley and baldwin hangs on how one understands the past. for buckley baldwin's challenge
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is as legible as cynicism despair, and iconiclasm. also the segregation have no bearing on the fundamental conditions on the democratic life in the united states. i challenge, you buckley says to name me another civilization in the history of the world in which the problems of the minority which have been shown in material and political advancement are as much a subject of dramatic concern as in the united states. as long as the years of slave trading both international and enslaved racial terrorism, debt the pennage, sexual violation, disenfranchisement and systematic deprivation of civil rights are reducible to the minority baldwin might reply there is scarcely any hope for
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the american dream. well buckley's opinion may appear grotesquely unpersuasive to many, and although he was soundly defeated in the view of the voting members of the cambridge union there remain too many counts on which we might say that while baldwin was right, buckley won. to be sure he didn't win the fight against formal desegregation or the extension of voting rights to black citizens. nonetheless, key features of his cambridge speech appear to be alive and thriving in the post-racial pollity. it may be for this reason that recent years have witnessed a resurgence of political analysis which draws its breath from baldwin's words. of course baldwin never disappeared from commentary after his death in 1987, i used to refer to his quotable omni presence somewhat caustically as
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everybody's epigraph. his writings strike me as an indication, you are jen and profound of baldwin's value as a counterweight. i want to consider two figures who have laid claim to baldwin's spirit. when cotes essay appeared on the cover of the atlantic in june 2014 it caused a sensation. building on many, well regarded critical articles and a stunning memoir, the beautiful struggle, it has a very long lynn and in black political thought and act vichl. we might say he reminded raerds again, what baldwin told his cambridge audience.
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americans have reproached the question of race and debt in backwards fashion. coats' essay does not credit to baldwin although he quotinge quotes elsewhere. for example, cotes plays homage to baldwin by deploying the first person plural and the dangers of adherence to a fantastic history in which quote, we believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don't look, and the language of reparations in cotes' rendering becomes a vehicle for the same that baldwin employed his readers to listen to and acknowledge. by tracing the expense of the american dream in this fashion, cotes dismantles the arguments
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of buckley's descendants liberals as well as conservative, whose embrace of the white middle class norms miss the point. black nationalists have mentioned something that is not recognizable. it's not a matter of false consciousness but a false so fundamental to america that it is difficult to imagine the country without it. last week in baltimore, at johns hopkins, cotes offered an addendum to this essay which he now calls incomplete. and i should note as an aside that hopkins is itself an emblem of the gap between the privileged and mostly-white baltimore which is the baltimore where i grew up and the wold of incomprehensible violence, in which cotes was raised and freddie gray was pursued and killed by the police.
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plunder, cotes said, was the keyword of his reparations article. having demonstrated how adhering to middle class norms has never shielded black people from plunder in the article cotes expanded the account. in addition to the legacies of enslavement and segregation of exclusion from policies designed to create and sustain a middle class, and of sub jex to the unpunished behavior of landlords, employers realtors and banks, cotes contended that we must also reckon with the central role of the justice system in making black people available for plunder. this is not an instance of special pleading but a claim about our history, and coates saying we like baldwin aims at white americans have been loathe to acknowledge our implication in the plundering of black communities. the idea of reparations is
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abdicated by generations of black activists and elaborated by coates. what would it take for the united states to become a democratic pollity? and what is owed to the citizens and their ancestors who have struggled across generations to build the country for nothing. where coates explores the interplay between macro level policy thes and lives, rakeep a poet requires that we attend to the intimate costs of the american dream. among the illuminating vignettes, one shows the context of the 21st century. ran keen shows the kinship between intimacy and policing, as white friends expect not to
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trespass the bright line between her historical self and herself self. how far have we come that you can only debate baldwin by address him as a white man. interestingly in the writ enversion it says that he treat him as a person. there are things in the "new york times" transcript, including the commentary about lynching that are far more abhorrent, more difficult to swallow than some of the things that he said at least in the version of the speech that we have available to us today. the impact of these demands for deniability is not only registered in the cross lines of color that remain all too alive even if they are more complex, but also in the body politic and the bodies of citizens
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themselves. the world is wrong rankeen observes. you cannot put the past behind you. it as you buried in you. it's turned your own flesh into its cupboard. rankeen's american lyric traces the myriad ways that the wrong words enter your day and joins that exploration to an accounting of some of the costs of living while black in the 21st century. her ledger includes hurricane katrina katrina, eric garner, james craig andirson, jordan davis michael brown and more. rankeen thus not only adds new chapters to baldwin's history of the american dream but in a fashion that is entirely her own. in a dedication dedicated to the memory of trayvon martin, rankeen writes, those years of and befored my brothers
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the years of passage, of jim crow segregation of poverty, inner cities. profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy. each a felony. accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us. passages like this one remind us that baldwin's "for nothing" both expresses a truth and counter acts it. opening the possibility for new vocabularying of democratic imagining. while coates and rankeen take baldwin's words and fit them into post racial times, the conditions and events that row vehicle their writing also point toward a gloomier way of interpreting the baldwin/buckley encounter and its legacies. if baldwin triumphed with his
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audience that night there are crucial ways in which we might still say that buckley won. if his casual racism and his studied ways his comments convey a common sense with race that reverberates in today's public discourses. discourses that personalize responsibility, that substitute punitive policy for public investment. and for a variety of reasons, both honorable and not, that urge us to accept that the past is past. we hear these echoes and expected places, in the language of the far right, or the admonitions of more respectively conservative pundits like david brooks who recently opined that baltimore's poorest citizens could only be saved quote, by the norms that middle class people take for granted. but buckley's claims enjoy an
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afterlife beyond conservative circles. the assumptions to live on in that well-known barack obama whose 2013 morehouse commencement speech acknowledged upward mobility and urged students to know that there's no time for excuses. buckley's comments live on in thuggishness, in comments about underclass culture and endorsements of the rule of law and the equality of opportunity. in in light revisiting the cambridge encounter serves to remind us especially those of us inclined to embrace walled bin's world view while such aem brace requires taking buckley seriously, very seriously. doing so shows how things have
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changed which elements of the past have been reinvented and which remains the statement. not least of these is the query baldwin put to his audience years ago, why is my freedom my citizenship in question now. thank you. [ applause ] >> i think i'll -- thank you very much, lori. and i think i'll try it at the podium them time instead of behind the podium. our next speaker, dr. seussen mcwilliams comes to us from pomona college where she teaches the history of police cal thought, american political thought, politics and literature and civic education. she, too boasts an impressive scholarly record, including "traveling back toward a global political theory" from oxford
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university press and a forthcoming volume on james baldwin's political imagination entitled a political companion to james baldwin due out in 2016. of special interest to us in oregon is "the best kind of college." the insider's guide to america's small liberal arts colleges. susan's work has been published in the boston review "the city", commonwealth, p.s., and perspectives on police cal sightical science. she has talked about henry david thoreau, captain ahab and the problem with slavery in the harry potter series. dr. mcwilliams is also
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contributing editor at front porch republic. she's received the jack miller for teaching america's founding principles in history annual fellowship, an neh summer grant in pomona college's wig award for excellence in teaching twice. i ask to you help me welcome dr. seuss -- dr. susan mcwilliams. [ applause ] well, now that the nen have left the stage i think it's time to talk about them. [ laughter ] specifically, i want to talk to you today about fathers. for, it's a curious fact that in their debate at the cambridge union, both james baldwin and william f. buckley junior each
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make a single powerful refrnls to fathers. did you linger on the references or even catch them? can you recall them now? i wouldn't be the surprised if you hadn't and koontz. both mentions of fatherhood, baldwin's and buckley's alike are so quick as to seem super flewous. but those those indications of fatherhood go down fast, they go deep. dimensions are short, but the meanings are profound. how could it be otherwise. you don't have to have a degree in psychology to know that fathers, whether present or absent, are centers of gravity for all of us. waiting down some dark corners of our souls, our fathering are in our dna, in our imagination and fantasy looming over us from birth to death.
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one never calls up the name father without calling up things close to one's heart. for many of us father is a word we use interchangeably with god which sigmund freud said we have some serious daddy issues. we might also consider the thinking of the french psycho analytic schalk lakhan, he developed his own doctrine called the name of the father which hinges on the notion that the idea of the father, the idea that each of us have of the father is each of our first idea is the expression of each of our first idea of outside authority. the expression of each of our idea of convention of law. in invoking the name of the father in speech, then, the speaker is invoking, maybe consciously, but more likely on what ralph ellison called the
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lower frequencies, his own primal understanding of authority, society and law. so, when in their debate baldwin and buckley both say the f-word, the truly most powerful f-word being father, it seems to me that even if they each say that word only once or twice, more words need to be said about it, so i want to talk to you today about fathers. now, because you may have well overlooked or forgotten the moments in which buckley and baldwin invoke fatherhood let he remind you of how think go. baldwin's mention comes very early in his speech, saying that what is at stake in the debate is the question of whether one civilization has the right to overtake and subjugate and in fact to destroy another. he tells his audience that the most private and indeed the most serious thing that happens when this happens is that it destroys the sense of reality of the
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subjugated. it destroys, for example and this is baldwin's only example his father's authority over him. his father can no longer tell him anything because the past has disappeared, and his father has no power in the world. destroys his father's authority over him. his father can no longer tell him anything because the past has disappeared and his father has no power in the world. there it is. that's bald win's quick shout out to fatherhood. i'll come back to that. now where baldwin begins his speech with talk of fathers, buckley ends his speech with talk of the same. and this line has been quoted already today. quote, the fundamental friend of the negro people in the united states is the good nature and the generosity and the good wishes, is the decency, the fundamental decencies that do lie at the reserves of the spirit of the american people, these must not be laughed at he
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says, under no circumstances should think be laughed at, and under no circumstances should america be told that the only alternative to the status quo is to overthrow that civilization which we consider to be faith of our fathers, the faith indeed of your fathers. this is what must animate whatever ameliorism must come. so again under no circumstances must america be addressed and told that the only alternatives to the status quo is to overthrow that civilization, which we consider to be the faith of our fathers, the faith, indeed, of your fathers. so here are our two invocations of fatherhood. baldwin's krits eke that the worst thing white supremacy does is overwhelm fathers. what strikes me as surprising is how similar in some ways these commenting actually are. far from disagreeing, baldwin
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and buckley share and agree on some key assumptions which i want us to think about. baldwin and buckley seem to be agreeing that fathers should have authority that fathers should hold a kind of power over their children and that the maintenance of such authority is somehow a measure of police cal or social health. accordingly, both suggest that it is dangerous if not damning when paternal authority gets undermined. and both express the concern that paternal authority has been or is being undermined in 20th century america. they both lament the state of the united states in which somehow the presence of racial injustice ruptures or threatens to rupture the traditional fatherly authority that should somehow hold sway. now let me insert an important parenthetical here. because of course beyond that, the stories that baldwin and buckley tell are quite different. for baldwin, the story is that
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because of pervasive and persistent racial injustice, traditional fatherly power loses its power. black men have no meaningful power in the city in the courthouse or the public at large. and as such, black fathers struggle to have meaningful power over their children. moreover, because the history and legacy of racialized slavery involved for blacks a history and legacy of generational breakage, because baldwin says, the past has disappeared. the black father can make no recourse to a heritage that granting him some kind of authority against time. time collapses, i pick the cot ton. the relation of father and child is one of shame, of separation, of impotence. buckley, meanwhile is worried that any attempt to combat the status quo would in undermining that status quo would be
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undermining western civilization. such an asserted attempt would break apart the national continuity and rupture the broader continuity of western civilization from which buckley argues and people have talked about the american nation derived its commitments. now i think the simple thing to say here would be to focus on those different parts of the story that baldwin and buckley are telling. to start with the fact that baldwin and buckley seem to be talking about two different classes of fathers. baldwin is talking about the fathers of the subjugated and buckley is talking about the fathers of the hedge mondayic status quo. obviously, racial identities and auto biographies are in play here. le the expeerntial differences between baldwin who never knew his father's name and buckley who had only his father's name. that is something worth looking
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at, the curious spectacle. let me spell this out for you. you don't need to know much history. you only need to know as much history as most americans know, which isn't much at all. you don't need to know much that the separation of america from england was part of rebellion against authority. the british are the ones who have historically liked the idea of paternalityal authority, see for example downton abbey. and we object to that sort of equation between fatherhood and public rule. according to this common story
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americans ever since have been marked if not entirely defined by a general aspiration to fatherlessness. the french philosopher put it this way, that quote, the american is the one who has freed himself from the english paternal function. he is the son of a torn father. and only believes in a society without fathers. in theory in some way, i think most americans are on board with that. and yet in practice here we have two american thinkering who seem to suggest all be it in different variations that one can measure the health of pollity with the health of parenting in it. both appeal to father dom as a political test and social vibrancy. well an easy explanation might be to say that the frenchman
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takes his own argument that the americans have a paternal complex when it come to the united kingdom. all those geopolitical daddy issues are going to bubble up to the surface in speech. i think that he might have said something like that, were we to ask him the question. the other thing is that the one thing most americans know about great britain is knowing that we know that those brits sure do seem to think paternal authority is a good thing. so any american who's going to fly across the atlantic to fight for the votes of a british debating audience might be inclined to throw in a nice word or two about fatherly authority to win a few points with the monarchal crowd. those might well be true. in fact i do think they're both true in some measure and yet there's so much more to be said by doing some going back.
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going back into the history of letters, at least to homer's iliad, most have used fatherhood as a way of appealing to the manhood of other men with whom they are engaged in battle. in the iliadic mode, it is the idea of fatherhood that keeps men who are on the field of battle tied to the world beyond the battlefield. that world beyond the battlefield in which men engage primarily out of a sense of care, concern and dependsy. invoking father hootd on the field of battle then means charging one's memory or hope of a space in which men connect with men by means other than violence, means that might even be rooted in love. and in doing so, it also means conjuring a kind of spiritual connection with all the other men on that battlefield a connection that transcends all political rifts. in the context of a battle, evoking fatherhood is a ways of
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invoking male bonding. let's be honest about this. a debate is not entirely close to the war at troy. but there is a continuum between fighting at the cambridge union and fighting on the beaches in the hills and on the mountains. it is true that in both this debate and in a war, you have men who are engaged in a public competition where the individual and police cal stakes are highkal the political stakes are high. they are both invoking fatherhood trying somehow on some register to connect familiar lally. let me appropriate a book by
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lori bellfur. in the baldwin/buckley debate, we have baldwin appealing to fatherdom as the test for the need for social redress and buckley appealing to fatherdom as the need for moderating considerably social change. but why do they couch those concerns in terms of fathers rather than in terms of mothers? or maybe just in terms of parentingparent parents parents? it's not that the arguments would change if you added some mention of the maternal. but in the debate, mommy is nowhere to be found. i think this is on multiple levels a debate about manhood. and i see in baldwin and buckley's indications of fatherhood, a powerful male to male discourse, an attempt that each man makes to appeal to the other in some deep way. in making these overtures to paternal authority, both baldwin and buckley seem to be saying to
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each other we as men, and as american men in particular might do well to see a kind of paternal authority in each other. perhaps a recognition of each other as equally legitimate paternal act ors and authorities. american manhood might be the grounds on which we can come to some kind of new recognition of each other or new resolution, rooted in a mutual appreciation of our mutual protection for paternity, a bond that in some ways goes deeper than race. baldwin makes that attempt to male to male discourse a little more consciously than buckley i think. he repeatedly makes recourse in this debate and in his righting to familial imagery that counsel founds divides. think of him saying casually my anses tors are both white and black, with the clear indication that everyone else's are too.
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they probably haven't thought about it. your fathers and my fathers at some point were the same fathers. and baldwin who never learned the identity of his own blolgal father lived closer to the truth than most of us do that the question of our paternity is more than a bit of a question who is your daddy baldwin asks, reminding us in the united states, our not knowing the answer to that question for sure undoes so many of our racial certainties and ties us pa ternly into a knott. buckley is speaking somewhat in the same register. to the extent that his phrase the faith of our fathers seems to itselfn earnest attempt that in his mind it's oriented toward the flourishing of all races. that's why he tells the cambridge audience that just like they fought against the
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germans but with the good of the germans in mind he would fight against black revolutionaries but with the good of those black revolutionaries in mind. buckley seems to be wanting to ground his argument in paternal relations as a way of tying the american nation together. and yet, the tragedy of this debate remains a tragedy and i really do regard this whole exchange as a tragic enterprise. because even though i think baldwin and buckley are each trying to reach out to each other through a kind of primal male to male signaling, they miss each other's mark in so many ways. all that father petois doesn't quite in the end get them to the point of speaking a common language. and when i first watched this debate, and i now from talking to you yesterday that my experience wasn't an uncommon one, i was bothered by how
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indirect the argument seems to be. how they keep to seem, to be missing each other. buckley in particular missing baldwin. they seem to be passing each other by even as i do believe that they both want to be mutually engaged. baldwin alludes in this debate to a story he uses in his great essay, which is telling about the american experience of being in europe. this story by the way appears in many variationing throughout his fiction and nonfiction. he fled the united states for europe because he longed to escape the color problem in america. but finding himself in europe it did not take him long to realize that he had more in champion with the white american tourists than any of the europeans he had encountered. to baldwin's eflts surprise he says it became terribly clear in europe as it never been here that we knew more about each other than any european ever would. this is what he says at length.
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in my necessity to find the terms on which my experience could be related to that of others, knee grows and whites, writers and non-writers, i proved to my astonishment to be as american as any texas g.i. and i found my experience to be like my they had been divorced from their origins, and it turned out to make very little difference that the origins of white americans were european and mine were african. they were no more at home in europe than i was. it was a conclusion that calledused baldwin to suffer a break down. all americans he said had been made by the same machinery, a machinery that on top of the lie of white supremacy also fid the lie of lib rative mobility. he drew the conclusion that americans, regardless in race, regardless of race are animated
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by pervasive feelings of disconnection, disconnection from origins in the past and disconnection from human fellowship and community. as a result of this sense of disconnection, the american yearns, to use two familiar idioms, to find a place where he fits in or to find himself he painting a picture of all americans white and black rung around the globe, lonely and disconnected trying desperately hard to escape or evade their fathers. travel was an attempt to escape from the father and couldn't be understood otherwise and desperate for human connection. as baldwin understood it, the deathless alien nation is ination is an american experience. it is a symptom and cause of white supremacy. now it's telling that just before buckley invokes the faith of our fathers, he argues that what will save the american negro is mobility.
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buckley is surely not wrong in that americans have long aspired to mobility and associated freedom and equality and the american dream with mobility. seeing mobility as a kind of civic energy and health. but i think what baldwin understands with a greater clarity than buckley is a two-fold truth. first, that if it is a commitment to mobility that is the faits of our fathers as buckley suggests that that is what connects us with our country men, it is also mobility that undoes our connection with our fathers and country men that adds to our national disconnection, our national loneliness and national failures of mutual recognition. in other words what buckley seems to miss is that the spirit of mobility that he sees ascii to having a faith in our fathers is also the spirit that undermines the very conditions that might enable a communal faith of our you are fathers to exist in a meaningful way. i think here the argument that d.h. lawrence makes in his great
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works, there lawrence describes americans as obsessively masterless, as anchored too much to an ideal of masterlessness, a word that has obvious relevance in the practice of slavery. for lawrence, as the historian mill mcclay has observed, that kind of aspiration to mobility amounts to a kind of adolescent rebelliousness. the doctrines of liberty and self-determination the doctrines that are generally captured in the american embraciveness they preeflt maturation and self-realization both in the american individual and the american pollity. only in turning to a more and
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corpsand, anchored. only through that turning to a more anchored of the self is true freedom possible. second baldwin understands in way more articulate than buckley that disconnection from fathers and from the past more generally feeds a status anxiety in american life which feeds white supremacy. baldwin often argues that a kind of status anxiety pervades the american experience. baldwin writes at win point, though american society is more mobile than europe's, it is easier to cut across social and occupational lines there than it is here. that's a powerful powerful formulation. though we're more mobile it's easier to cut across lines there. he explained that line this way. this has something to do, i think, with the problem of status in american life. where everyone has status or is said to have status it is also
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perfectly possible after all that no one has. it seems inevitable in any case that a man may become uneasy as to just what his status is. this social paranoia, argues baldwin gets to the heart of things in america, because the social paranoia is part and parcel of what gets in this debate called the american dream. here's a great formulation from one of baldwin's essays. the prevailing notion of american life seems to involve a rung by rung ascension to a hideous life. when one slips, one slips back not a rung but back into chaos and no longer knows who he is. this, he continues suggests to me one of the real reasons for the status of the negro in this country. in a way, the knee grow tells us where the bottom is, because he is there. and where he is beneath us we know where the limits are and how far we must not fall.
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we must not fall beneath him. white supremacy is inextricably tied to status anxiety which is connected to the disconnection of americans that comes from a couple tour that worships at the altar of mobility. in this way, chaos connects with color. the valorization of mobility that is at the core of buckley's american dream. something that is done out of the commitment to equality is that what has become a social impediment to equality. try this resolution on for side r size -- size. the american dream comes at the expense of the american dream. to the extent that americans really do want to present ourselves to the proposition that all men and women are created women.
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baldwin suggests we need to move away from our misguided notion of mobility. the paradox that americans fail to understand is that we only rightly understand and are only truly ailing to pursue freedom when we see the ways in which we are dependent. and we only rightly understand and are only truly able to pursue equality when we see ourselves as subject, subject perhaps to our fathers, tied to them as lakhan would say to a larger order. he says i did pick the cotton we do inhabit the space of our fathers. i took it to market. i took the lashes. we need to stand in that temporally collapsed space. lest we be engaged in a complicated process of historical denial that in the end paying whom and to paternity
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only in name. in this debate, i think it's buckley is the one whose words about ancestry are the real act of historical trickery. one final little note. it's kind of a neat detail i think that the phrase that buckley chooses to use in his mention of fatherhood is the phrase, the faith of our fathers. because as is perhaps some of the papists among you know, that phrase originated in the english language in the 19th century as the tighttle of an english cath lick hymn. she'll win our country back to three and through the truth that comes from god. england shall then indeed be free. now i doubt buckley invoked the faith of our fathers consciously, although he certainly would have grown up singing the hymn that gave birth to the phrase. i say that i doubt buckley invoked it consciously lyly because
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the song was intended to imor tallize roman catholics martyred. the song captures the spirit and hope not of a hedge mawnic status quo but the spirit of people who have been excluded and violently so from sharing a kwm place and experience in a nation. it is a song of the subjugated a song that suggests that one appeals to the faith of our fathers most powerfully in the end when the world does not look the way that it should to you, since faith, as baldwin reminds us, that the scripture reminds us, after all is the evidence of things not seen, the evidence of things not yet realized. the trorts of those who have yet to get and to achieve entrance into the kingdom. thank you very much. [ applause ]
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thank you, susan. thank you both once again for brilliant comment teararear terryartearys. unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time, but we do have some time. and i'm going to sit back down, i think, here in a minute and let our panelists speak from where they are at the table. and, again, those of you on this side, you might have an a little bit of a challenge. i do want to make the request on behalf of c-span that if you have a question, you wait for one of the roving mics to find you so that the audience to come will also be able to hear your question along with the speakers up front here. and we don't want anybody in the audience to miss what you want to ask. so with that, i will open the floor for questions.
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>> i'm going to try to say this as coherently as possible. i first want to thank both of you for your speeches. they were wonderful. buckley says that concern, first and the effort of african-americans second are the ways in which we can begin to finally eradicate racial issues in america. but what he does not, at least verbally take into consideration is w. efrges b. due boyce, what he called double consciousness which, as you touched on can be seen almost in a performative way. in my way babo uses his double consciousness as a man and as a slave to fight by turning his role as a slave into a way in which he can keep his mutiny secret. bringing this to 1965, regardless of concern which looks disgustingly very much like belittling paternalism, it
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seems that in buckley's system of reality he would have african-americans play the role of the happy, grinning negro while fighting for their equality just so he and other genteel whites don't have to see the sight of america they hold so dear. i'm wondering if you can speak on that and buckley's call for african-americans' effort just so he doesn't have to see it. >> it's a terrific question. and it's actually very helpful, because it i think it adds a dimension to my own thinking about the relationship between knee tosa reno on the one hand and the figure of babbo does
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not -- understands the position of african-americans. one of the things that i would draw between nelville's novell owe was read until the 20th century was in the account of a slave revolt on a ship and an american, white american saylorilor who comes across the ship and entirely lyly misunderstands what is happening, but one of the things that i think is interesting is that that novella was read for a very long time as an encounter between good and evil. captain delano as a representative of the united states, as a representative of a certain kind of goodness and babbo as pure vengeance, pure evil, pure violence. and what that does, then is suppress the reality of the
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violence of the slave system itself. and so one of the things i think that's interesting, that connects your question about double consciousness is the way in which, i think one of the things that baldwin gets at so powerfully particularly with his use of the first person plural is use of the "we" as susan said is his pressing white americans to ask what kind of double consciousness it requires to live in a system in which one's principles, ones commitments, the faith of one's father in some regard, and this came out this morning, and i think in patrick's comments when he was talking about buckley being pushed, on the relationship between his own catholic faith and civil rights but how to live with that doubleness of a commitment and the obviousness of a violation. so at the moment for me that i
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think is one of the most powerful is when buckley makes the quip about, you know, the problem in mississippi is not that there are not, that african-americans can't vote but that too many whites are voting. what's striking about that moment, which actually is not far from something that due bois once said where he said that the sufficient ran should be so it's not radically democratic in all of his moments but what's striking about that moment, i think, when buckley articulates it is that the violence of the suppression of the black franchise disappears. and he could not not know that people were dying to gain the right to vote. so it is what is the doubleness that is required to sustain that kind of competence. and i think delano becomes a real interesting figure for thinking about the innocence of baldwin talks about. >> i think what's most striking about that moment where buckley talks about oh, we should, you
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know lower the number of whites who vote is it comes two seconds after he's just said what we shouldn't do at all is try to equalize by lowering. remember, he says confronted with the fact that, you know, black children are so much more likely to be born out of wedlock, does that mean we should raise the number of white children born out of wedlock. we shouldn't try to equalize by lowering, and then immediately in response to that, you might start by letting them vote in mississippi, he says no. we should stop white people from voting. right, that is that he equalizes by lowering which is a perfect example of a kind of double consciousness. he sees why it would be bad or undesirable to lower in the case of out of wedlock births, but he doesn't see, right? he doesn't even see how there's a basic incoherence there in his position. the only thing i would add about
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bonito sareno here is to follow up on this debate today i teach bonito sareno all the time to students who think they know a lot about double consciousness. and it tricks them. they're just as blind as the protagonist of the story and i think as long as people can read melville's story and not see the mutiny double consciousness is still something, even a full apreegs yags is something that eludes overall. >> thank you both. this has been wonderful. i want to ask something about you just mentioned the comment about illegitimacy that buckley makes in the african-american community, and i was wondering if you could speak to how discourses leading


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