James Baldwin Talks About Racism in America & Civil Rights Activism on The Dick Cavett Show (1969)

James Baldwin, New York City, 1976; photograph by Nancy Crampton

“There are many reasons, some quite literal, that it can be painful to talk about racism in the U.S. For one thing, it often seems that writers like W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, or James Baldwin, have already confronted questions of racial violence without hedging or equivocation. Yet each time racist violence happens, there seems to be a decorous need in politics and media to pretend to be surprised by what’s right in front of us, to pretend to have discovered the place for the first time, and yet to already have a supply of readymade platitudes and denunciations at hand. For example, just recently, a former white U.S. President just dismissed an important civil rights leader at the funeral of another civil rights leader, while the oppressive conditions both leaders fought against are amplified to military grade in cities around the country. Sports fans demand that elite Black athletes shut up and entertain them. The fans will be the ones to say what gestures are acceptable, like standing for the national anthem at a televised for-profit sporting event that has more to do with gambling than patriotism. Maybe standing and kneeling are both spectacles, but they do not carry equal weight. When New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees refused to support his teammates’ mild protest against murder, he tried to make it right by posting on social media a stock photo of a black hand and a white hand clasped together. … When Dick Cavett voiced the question to Baldwin in 1969—citing those who point to the success of ‘the rising number of Black Americans in sports, politics, and entertainment’—Baldwin explained the real problem: No one has asked for this opinion, and certainly not at that time, as Gutoskey points out, ‘with the violence of 1968—Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Robert F. Kennedy’s assassinations, a riotous Democratic National Convention, countless civil rights protests, and so on—still very fresh in the public consciousness.’ … Again and again, those who resist the most brutal conditions—including outright murder in the streets, in quiet homes at night, in cars, at playgrounds, by agents of the state—are called villains and insurrectionists. Cavett asks Baldwin to explain radical leaders like H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael, ‘who frighten us the most’ (making the word ‘us’ do a lot of work here).  …”
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This entry was posted in 1968 DNC, Angela Davis, Black Power, Books, Civil Rights Mov., James Baldwin, John Kennedy, MLKJr., Rob. Kennedy, Sports and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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