Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Timely Speaking — James Baldwin, 1968: “I can conclude what white people think and feel from the state of their institutions…”

In this 60 second clip, James Baldwin is especially on point. Still applicable some 47 years later.

In the very brief piece, brother Baldwin makes the case that in every significant institutional relationship or arrangement between this American society and the African American community, we are on the more disadvantageous side of that relationship. And note that these are institutional arrangements, guided by laws, policies and practices, and not the individual arrangements between individually bigoted people and other individuals they wish to exploit. (Although, individuals indeed accept and breathe life into, sometimes intensifying, these arrangements.)

He then dismisses what is seemingly an appeal for Black folks to have more faith in, and be more optimistic in our assessments and willingness to trust, the collective good will and intent of whites in this country.

Now, this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith risking myself, my life, my woman, my sister, my children, on some idealism which you assure me exists in America which I have never seen!

I've said this to people I've worked closely with over the years, and it's still the case today... I'm not impressed with the ability of people from different racial and ethnic groups to get along and socialize together, even to support one another as individuals in times of human need. That shows that we have some level of humanness in our spirit that allows us to be humane to other people. I think that's important for sure, but it doesn't suggest a high level of courage; nor does it suggest some level of remarkable character. It shows one to be human in a most basic sense. Given the society we live in, that may seem commendable. Given the examples of civilized societies we've seen throughout history, it reveals a very low moral and ethical bar.

I'm far more interested in whether they/we do the harder work of telling the truth about the worldviews, value systems (and the institutions they produce) that undermine the human potential of some groups of people while stacking the deck in favor of other groups of people. Moreover, I'm interested in whether people do what is within their/our power and sphere of influence to work towards the destruction of that way of living in the world, in favor of a world that is just, that is humane, and that supports the healthy development of all people to their fullest potential.

Having said this, I must also say, consistent with brother Baldwin's reflections, that I'm not as yet convinced that everyone is capable of living in such a world, as the evidence would suggest that some people only know how to live in an environment with hierarchical, exploitative and oppressive human and social relationships, and in which they are on the top and/or in control. The sad reality is that for these people, at least as the evidence would suggest, such a world characterized by exploitation, domination and oppression is in essence their view of what constitutes healthy human relationships.

This notwithstanding, or should I say, because of this, the struggle and everyday work of humanizing - and bringing about justice within - this world, and among the people in it, continues. I am certain that there are courageous folks of all walks of life who are committed to this. For each of us, however, the test of our commitment is in what our actions produce, and not what we profess to believe... in what we do to create justice, optimal health and well-being for all people, and not in how many people we count as friends from other "racial" groups.

Watch the very short clip of Baldwin just below...

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