Enter: James Baldwin

Writing to his nephew, Baldwin told him about white people:

“There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.”

Wherever, whenever I read those words for the first time, was one of the great “moments” of my life. I knew then that I would never be “at ease” anywhere until I began to understand that history. So I began the search of that history in which I was trapped, wanting to know better, to understand, to be “released from it”.

Only later, much later, did I also begin to understand the words with which Baldwin completes his note about whites. He goes on to say something which becomes, I believe, a prediction of the identity struggles of many white people today as they seek
to “be released” from their entrapment: (emphasis mine.):

“Many of them, indeed, know better, but as you will discover, people find
it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and
to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds
of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable
pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven, and earth are shaken to
their foundations.”

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