James Baldwin was an African American writer whose novels, plays, poetry, and essays were famous in the 1960’s. Now, thirty years after his death, his writings and TV appearances have become the basis for an Oscar nominated documentary about racism called I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, a powerful reminder that although some progress has been made during the past 50 years, racial prejudice is still very much with us. The movie consists entirely of the actual words of James Baldwin, spoken by him on film that was shot during the 1960’s and read by Samuel L. Jackson from an unfinished manuscript Baldwin wrote about three assassinated black leaders he knew well: Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King.
Baldwin (on camera): If any white man in the world says, “Give me liberty or give me death!”, the entire white world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, he is judged a criminal and treated like one and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad nigger so they’re won’t be any more like him.
James Baldwin spoke his mind without reservation in the tumultuous 1960’s. He believed that the racial problem in America is a crisis of the American spirit.
Baldwin : The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.
Jackson’s voice sounds nothing like Baldwin’s, but somehow it never seems jarring to go from one to the other.
Baldwin did not hate white people. He believed that most non-whites had nothing against blacks. But…
Baldwin: That’s really not the question. The question is one of apathy and ignorance which is the price we have paid for segregation. That’s what segregation means. You don’t know what’s happening on the other side of the wall because you don’t wanna know.
Baldwin: What people have to do is try to find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place. Because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it and the question you gotta ask yourself, the white population’s gotta ask itself . . . If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him — you, the white people, invented him — then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that.
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO will make you think about how deep seated America’s racial issues really are.
Terry Hunter, Hawaii News Now. firstname.lastname@example.org