The Essence Of Dubois Ideas In Baldwin’s Stranger In The Village
James Baldwin captures the essence of the black-white existence in his article Stranger in the Village: “The black man insists, by whatever means he finds at his disposal, that the white man cease to regard him as an exotic rarity and recognize him as a human being… One of the things that distinguishes Americans from other people is that no other people has ever been so deeply involved in the lives of black men, and vice versa.” (Baldwin 1984, Stranger in the Village, 4). Baldwin’s views on the black-white existence stem from his personal experience with segregation and anti-black sentiments. He is aware of the labels, stereotypes, and overall negative stigmatism that is associated with being a black man in, what seems to be, a white man’s country; however, he believes that America’s relationship with black people is stronger than other countries and will continue to strengthen if, and only if, white people acknowledge them as equals. Being recognized as an equal holds more power than one may think: human beings crave the feeling of acceptance because the sense of belonging is innate to survival. To fight against inequality, Baldwin suggests the severance from the white man’s definition of a black man.
Baldwin continues this idea of disassociating oneself from the negative stereotypes that are perpetuated on African Americans in his letter to his nephew: “You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.” (Baldwin 1963, 16). Baldwin establishes the idea that allowing stereotypes to define a person is the epitome of self-destruction. Although black people must acknowledge their oppression, they must not believe the white man’s justifications for mistreating them. Baldwin highlights the importance of understanding one’s history. Therefore, acknowledging and fighting against the current barriers, while recognizing the influence of the past is crucial for understanding the limitations of being a black man in America. Baldwin continues to describe the white man’s fatal flaw of not accepting their hand in the unjust oppression of black men: “Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.” (Baldwin 1963, 20). Essentially, Baldwin describes how white people, who have molded their entire identity on the oppression of black people, lose their sense of self as black people begin to defy the limitations placed upon them. The unwillingness of white people to help America’s racial problem unveils a dark truth: white people fear that removing these limitations placed on black people will hinder their sense of identity and power. Ultimately, Baldwin is conveying the idea that we cannot blame the white man for the hindrance of black men in society because it is hard for one to let go of deep-rooted ideas; however, we can hold them accountable for not educating themselves in their history. Because white people refuse to acknowledge their history of oppressing and tormenting others, which is in direct correlation with the prejudice they carry onto future generations, they are unable to come to terms with their faults. Baldwin stresses the importance of having black people educate their white counterparts on America’s history, so they can understand their position in it. To further his argument, Baldwin adds, “And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.” (Baldwin 1963, 21). Baldwin reminds his nephew that even ignorant white people, who are solely responsible for both his oppression and so-called “freedom,” are his brothers and in order to achieve the freedom black people truly deserve, they must use love. Until white men are free from their predisposition to evoke hatred and torment, black men cannot be truly free, and the only way to remove hatred is with love. He reinforces this sentiment with his closing line: “We cannot be free until they are free.” (Baldwin 1963, 21)
James Baldwin strongly believed that a white man’s world and a black man’s world are intertwined with one another: “What one’s imagination makes other people is dictated, of course, by the laws of one’s own personality and it is one of the ironies of black-white relations that, by means of what the white man imagines the black man to be, the black man is enabled to know who the white man is.” (Baldwin 1984, Stranger in the Village, 4). However, W.E.B Dubois believed that the white man and the black man lived in two different worlds, but it is important for each to understand and appreciate each world respectfully. In his book The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois explains that people in the world of whites are curious as to how it feels to be the “problem,” but will never truly understand or experience it. Du Bois’ personal experience with rejection from white people in his early childhood made him realize that they viewed him as an outcast, so he was excluded from the world of white people by what he calls “a vast veil.” This idea that white and black people in America are separated into two worlds stems from the division amongst them that is powerful, yet intangible. Throughout the book, Du Bois shows how the exclusion and mistreatment within society can cause black people to become full of discontent with themselves. He introduces the idea that racist ideas are so prevalent that black people begin to unintentionally internalize them: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” (Du Bois 2007, 8). The idea of double-consciousness focuses on the idea that black people are forced to view themselves through the lens of whites, which in turn can lead them to question what it means to truly be a black man in America. However, similar to Baldwin, Du Bois emphasizes that these two sides can coexist harmoniously without having to suppress either the African or American side of being an African American: “He would not Africanize America… He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism… He simply wishes to make it possible for man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.” (Du Bois 2007, 9) Ultimately, Du Bois explains that black people do not want to replace white America with black culture, but they want to be accepted as Americans. Du Bois proposes the idea that the “freedom” given to black people after slavery is merely an illusion. Similar to Baldwin’s idea that black men cannot be truly free until white men acknowledge both their history of being oppressors and how their current status continues this cycle of oppression, Du Bois highlights the idea that black people cannot ignore the reality of slavery and its legacy unlike their white counterparts. Just like Baldwin, Du Bois calls upon a mutual understanding between both white people and black people in order for black people to release themselves from the shackles of stereotypes and internalized racism: “…before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race… but rather in large conformity to greater ideals of the American Republic.” (Du Bois 2007, 13). According to Du Bois, white America must stop excluding black people from institutions, opportunities, and conversations because the inclusion of black culture will strengthen the overall harmony of American society.
The overall theme from both Du Bois and Baldwin is that freedom for black Americans cannot be achieved until white people acknowledge their history and aid in solving America’s racial inequality because the black-white existence has become a codependent one.
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James Baldwin captures the essence of the black-white existence in his article Stranger in the Village: “The black man insists, by whatever means he finds at his disposal, that the […]