In a style similar to other minority works of literature, James Baldwin's writing encompasses the recurring theme of identity—what it means and from where it originates. This theme stems from incomplete identity of the black American community. Baldwin's writings try to explain the difficulties that this group of people has faced with a past that was essentially created by whites and reinforced by stereotypes that must be overcome in spite of racial oppression. Although Baldwin saw himself simply as an American, to the white world he was a black man and a homosexual, therefore, not truly American. Baldwin unwillingly took up the role as a spokesperson for blacks. His job was to show white America that the “Black Problem” was an American problem because blacks were not the ones who originated the racial problems in the United States. Blacks had been on the North American continent along with whites for over three hundred years by the time the Civil Rights Movement began, but were not given the same rights and were hardly even considered to belong to the mainstream American society. The identity of American blacks was created in America and is apart of the collective history of white and black Americans. Through his writing, Baldwin tries to express to the white population that this history and this identity cannot be disregarded. It must be legitimately recognized before any progress can be made.
[...] Baldwin saw that choosing to accept an identity from whites would be the downfall of the black community especially if they turned their understanding into hate. Lawrie Balfour expands upon the relationship between DuBois's and Baldwin's views on race, saying Story of America' is thus a story of double consciousness ‘we' battle the memory of slavery and the knowledge that a coincidence of birth still condemns millions of Americans to life outside the promises of freedom” (354). In order for there to be any type of racial progress, Baldwin argues that both whites and blacks must not turn a blind eye to history, but use it to move forward. [...]
[...] Baldwin uses an extensive portion of The Fire Next Time to talk about Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Although he does not agree with the doctrine of the religion, he does acknowledge the importance of NOI to the black community. Elijah Muhammad has been able to do what generations of welfare workers and committees and resolutions and reports and housing projects and playgrounds have failed to do: to heal and redeem drunkards and junkies, to convert people who have come out of prison and to keep them out, to make men chaste and women virtuous, and to invest both the male and the female with pride and a serenity that hang about them like an unfailing light. [...]
[...] A part of helping the Negro soul is not rejecting or denying their identity, but showing the world that their identity—the identity created by whites to oppress them—is an identity that should never be created again. Baldwin says that blacks and whites “deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation—if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women” (Fire 83). Black America and white America should be one America that has no dividing line based on color. [...]
[...] When a person is told all of his life that he is worth less than someone else, it is difficult to move past the “part of the American Negro's education (long before he goes to school) that he must make people ‘like' (137). The idea that whites must be treated as superiors even if they are not, is something that blacks in Africa and America were forced to endure for their own survival. The identity of American blacks is based somewhat on their lack of identity and always, in some respects, being a stranger. [...]
[...] Baldwin proves that for blacks and whites, identity is an intrinsic component of being American. Like it or not, race is an important part of American identity and it cannot be ignored, pushed aside, or escaped. Blacks have been living in America since the early 1600s when they were brought as slaves and indentured servants of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. During Baldwin's time, blacks had never been equal with whites in any context. Because blacks had always been at the bottom of the social ladder, it was difficult for most whites to see why blacks were unhappy in their position and suddenly had desires to be of their place”. [...]
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