In the wake of Charleston’s church massacre – James Baldwin’s classic essay rings true nearly 60 years later.
Beacon Press published James Baldwin’s classic essay ‘A Stranger in the Village’ in 1955 – but it’s as relevant today as it was then ?—? maybe even more so because of what happened in this past troubling year.
In his essay Baldwin described how he moved to a remote Swiss village where no one had ever seen a black person.
Children joyfully shouted ‘Neger! Neger!’ as he walked on snowy streets.
Older villagers treated him well but with a detached curiosity.
‘There was no suggestion that I was human: I was simply a living wonder’.Baldwin then used his experience as a metaphor to describe the larger disconnect between white and black America.Black Americans he said carry with them a mixture of rage and hope ?— ?rage from the yoke of history – rage from being treated as strangers decade after decade – and hope that says ‘when life has done its worst they will be enabled to rise above themselves and to triumph over life’.
Meantime white Americans filter racial reality through the combined prisms of naivete and revisionism.
Like the Swiss villagers a white American prefers to keep black people – Baldwin wrote – ‘at a certain human remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity and avoid being called to account for crimes committed by his forefathers – or his neighbors’.