The History that James Baldwin wanted America to see

Eddie S. Glaude, Jnr, ‘The New Yorker’, 20th June 2020

Baldwin was hardly naïve about the human capacity for evil, especially in white folk. “If you’re a Negro, you’re in the center of that peculiar affliction,” he said, “because anybody can touch you—when the sun goes down. You know, you’re the target of everybody’s fantasies.” But what shocked him was that white America had killed someone who espoused love, an apostle of nonviolence. King’s death revealed the depths of white America’s debasement and the scope of black America’s peril. “Perhaps even more than the death itself, the manner of his death has forced me into a judgment concerning human life and human beings which I have always been reluctant to make,” he wrote. “Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become.”

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