tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN July 1, 2015 5:30am-7:31am EDT
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 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 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. 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 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. 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 tling. 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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. 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 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. 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 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 aspi 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 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 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. 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. 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 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 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 ] 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. >> 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 up to today about african-american fatherhood have been used in this conversation that we seem to be having about race for
really hundreds of years. >> well, i almost don't even know where to begin. answering that question, though the topic of my talk invites the question. part of what i think, what i find striking about baldwin's mention there is just that part of the reference where he says the past has disappeared which is to say baldwin is saying black men have never really been able to have the experience of having fathers in the united states. and that is not, and that legacy and heritage is nothing new. and it's really in some ways not a choice. it's an a tradition that had been imposed firstly by outside that created a kind of reality. that we still see today. that reality is the same reality. so much of what i see baldwin doing and why i want to keep
coming back to that "i picked the cotton" line is that baldwin really insists if we want to take race seriously we have to collapse our sense of racial difference. otherwise we get the sense that things are about decisions that people are making today and we privilege those decisions or see them as more important or we see them as decisions in the first place when in some important ways they are not. it. >> i seoully just wanted to pick up on something from susan's comments earlier about baldwin's understanding of the interconnection, the familial lines, and there was a wonderful line that i now can't reproduce about the insist with usness of american genealogy. and baldwin, in the taped version makes a moment terry
comment where he says my grandmother never raped anyone. and i think that's also a way of turning the tables on illegitimacy and who counts what does a legitimate family look like? and that's also there although it's not in the "new york times" transcript. >> i think we have time for at least one more question. maybe a couple. >> thank you both for being here. this is really interesting. so my question is about your piece on fathers and it strikes me that libertarian conservatism is the most fatherless brand of it. and so i'm wondering, is the, what many probably see, at least i see, the libertarian turn in modern conservatism, what does that mean for the fatherly reproachment between whites and blacks and what are the repercussions of that? >> that's a great question.
well i would defer to some of what we heard earlier about what has been a kind of, what had been a conscious strategy on the right in some places, and now i think is an unconscious strategy on the right, and maybe even not, not maybe even, and certainly not exclusively on the right, where if by adopting the language of a kind of laissez faire politics in terms of economics in particular you're actually saying a lot that has to do with race without saying a lot that has to do with race. it's hard for me to see contemporary libertarianism as anything other than that which isn't an adequate answer to your question, but i want to think about it some more. >> i saw a gentleman with a hand
up over here. i think this will be our last question nick, yes. >> cool. so my question has to do with the debate that we saw yesterday. and i thought that 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 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 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, 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. 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 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 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. 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 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 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? 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 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. 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 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. 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 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 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 thaties, 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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 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. >> 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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. 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. 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 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 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. 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. so what's so fascinating about this current moment is the way in which our political imaginations have been atrophied, how it's been limited. so if we just looked at the 1970s, right, and look at what was circulating in political discourse, right? you could hear talk of full employment. folks were talking, they weren't -- there were questions around the death penalty. whether or not it was viable, right? i mean, what was politically possible, right, was much more vast. i marine, we were just talking about walter mondale. joe, walter mondale sounds like a -- what did you had, a fiery leftist today right?
and, no, it's just because the field of political action has narrowed in such a way that what constitutes legitimate political action, right, is so limited. so the better way has to be within this narrow frame of what constitutes legitimate political behavior. let's give you an example. so folks are talking about folks in ferguson needed to vote, they needed to participate in the political process. nobody voted. and nobody has voted. nobody -- it waebts a vote that god rid of the chief of police. it wasn't a vote that got rid of the city manager. it wasn't a vote that suddenly has -- that's shut down the municipal court. it wasn't a vote that has reduced the number of stops traffic stops that has had arrest warrants thrown out of court. nobody voted for that to happen. it was that mass mobilization. right?
if the video hasn't showed up about freddie gray where would we be? if the video didn't show up about walter scott, what would have happened? if those folk hasn't gotten the street in baltimore, would those six police officers have been charged? right? would there be a conversation going on in the united states right now about the state of baltimore? and mortality right? life chances of teenagers. the rate of unemployment. some pocket over 50%. right? the opportunity desert that is east baltimore. with that have happened? i don't know is saying that those forms of protests constitute the end and be all of black politics. i think we need a strategy for the streets a strategy for the ballot box and a strategy for the courtroom. right? but the one thing we need to do
is to understand that the ground of the imagination is a battlefield. the imagination is the battlefield. because they don't want you to think that you can behave politically different, in a different way. who is the "they"? i don't know, right? but there's -- but for some reason, people want us to think that where we are now is sufficient. the perfectionist impulse demands is that we reach for higher levels of excellence. for us to think of good that reach beyond the knowledgeness of now. the prophetic isn't in some person who has access to god's insight. the prophetic is found in the exercise of critical intelligence our ability to see the as yet in the face of the horror of the actual.
you feel me? all right. >> before i invite you to thank professor glaude once again, i want to till what is coming next. we will have a 30-minute break so you're invited to refresh yourself over here once again with the coffee and snacks. and then we will have our next panel. i also want to draw the attention to the fact that the last panel that was supposed to start at 4:00 p.m., has been canceled because both of those scholars weren't able to make it at the last minute. now i want you to join me in thanking professor glaude for a magnificent --