Was James Baldwin right when he called white Americans moral monsters?

Discussion in 'Race, Religion, Science and Politics' started by OckyDub, Jul 23, 2018.

  1. OckyDub

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    In 1979, the legendary writer James Baldwin began work on a manuscript examining his relationships with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. He never finished it. In 2017, filmmaker Raoul Peck used Baldwin’s words as the foundation for his riveting masterpiece “I Am Not Your Negro.”

    Peck’s entire film is captivating, but one segment in particular ceaselessly haunts me. The meditative voice of narrator Samuel L. Jackson deliberately carries us through one of Baldwin’s most damning reflections on a good percentage of white Americans, “I’m terrified at the moral apathy – the death of the heart which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means that they have become, in themselves, moral monsters.”

    As he did throughout his life, Baldwin raises difficult but necessary questions with which we must wrestle. Why are so many white Americans so brutally mean and inhumane? Why do so many others feel comfortable justifying or excusing it? Why do others still, who claim “not to think that way,” find it acceptable to say little and do even less? Make no mistake, there are certainly whites who stand in the tradition of William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown and others. However, reasonable people must admit they are the exceptions, not the rules.

    To be sure, no matter how sensibly and dispassionately one approaches the subject, many whites immediately paint them as angry black people, [reverse] racists, or maniacs. Despite that, while far too many cower and equivocate, other brave Americans continue to raise the issue in the public sphere. A small sample of important work over the last few years includes Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The First White President” in the Atlantic, Charles Blow’s “The Lowest White Man” in the New York Times, Rose Marie Berger’s rumination “Why are white people so mean?” and Michael Harriot’s recent sledgehammer piece, “White people are cowards” in The Root.

    All of these writers along with stalwart academics like Duke University’s William “Sandy” Darrity, Emory University’s Carol Anderson and others contextualize the subject and push back against the emerging narrative that white American mean-spiritedness appeared and apexed with the ascension of Donald Trump. That is a lie. The truth is none of this is new. Its genesis is actually rooted in times long before America’s current anti-black and brown immigrant president’s family immigrated to the country.

    Voter fraud is a canard. Voter suppression, however, is real and is not new. It has been around since the limiting of the franchise to property-holding white men at the beginning of the country’s political story. Forcing the extension of it to others has always been a struggle.

    Traumatizing families and children of color is not new. White Americans enslaved blacks, raped black women, demonized black men, ripped black children from their parents, sold them all when profitable, visited any number of other inexcusable atrocities upon them ... and justified it all. Those who resisted were threatened, punished or killed. Once slavery ended, whites continued to glorify slavery and the Confederacy with flags, statues, monuments and political candidates who reaffirmed all the nastiness and death. They still do.

    The Supreme Court’s support of such indecency is not new. Remember Dred Scott and many other legal blows to decency and democracy.

    That only scratches the surface. Native American genocide, black codes, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, intimidation, disproportionate incarceration, convict leasing, Jim Crow, Japanese American internment, police murder of black men, women and children often without consequence. None of it is new. It is the continuation of a long-standing pattern and, as Congresswoman Maxine Waters advised, resistance needs to be fomented.

    Medgar Evers was slain in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, and Martin Luther King in 1968. James Baldwin passed in 1987. None of them ever experienced Donald Trump, but all witnessed omnipresent American white supremacy and meanness. Maybe Baldwin was right when he said we are dealing with “moral monsters.” It is hard to say at this point. If that is the case, we need to be clear about it. Such an acknowledgment would lower the expectation that many of our white brothers and sisters will be inclined to make decisions based on human decency rather than economic and political calculations or privilege maintenance. At least that honesty would eradicate the lies and pretense.

    If America continues on this path (and there is no historical or contemporary evidence that it will not), maybe Emma Lazarus’ words famously associated with the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” should be replaced with a paraphrasing of Dante, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here ... unless ye be white.

    Dr. Ricky L. Jones is chair of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. He is the host of “The Ricky Jones Show with 12 Mr. FTC” from iHeart Media. Visit him at www.rickyljones.com. His column appears every third Thursday in the Courier-Journal.
     
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  2. OckyDub

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    After Fucker Carlson interview with Fox News over his column.

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    'Don't be like a Tucker Carlson,' says Ricky Jones after TV exchange

    Ricky Jones doesn't think his appearance on Tucker Carlson's show was "tumultuous."

    Carlson, the Fox News host, cut off his brief interview with Jones within several minutes Monday night, after insinuating Jones was a racist. But the move, Jones said, was in line with what he anticipated.

    It wasn't his first rodeo, he told the Courier Journal on Tuesday.

    Jones was invited onto Carlson's show to discuss a column he wrote for the Courier Journal over the weekend, in which he explored the idea from social critic and novelist James Baldwin that white Americans might be "moral monsters" for their treatment of other races.

    To Jones, it's important to go into spaces like Fox News, which he described as "hostile," to both confront the network's ideology and raise ideas that might not be otherwise discussed on the program.

    "Fox News doesn't stay on Fox News. It moves throughout the world," he said. "... Hopefully it breeds discussion outside of that, because that's a space where the discussion isn't going to happen."

    The column is an attempt, as a whole, to place modern phenomenons into historical context, Jones explained to the Courier Journal on Tuesday. Voter suppression and traumatizing children or families of color, for example, have happened for centuries.

    "Baldwin raises difficult but necessary questions with which we must wrestle. Why are so many white Americans so brutally mean and inhumane?" Jones wrote, in part. "Why do so many others feel comfortable justifying or excusing it?"

    Ignoring that context or the nation's past is "how we've gotten to where we have gotten," Jones said, adding that Carlson epitomizes the idea of not being willing to have an honest conversation.

    In the program, Carlson appeared to hone in on one line of Jones' piece rather than taking a look at its entire message. He asks Jones whether he would accept a piece that describes black people as moral monsters — to which Jones replies by encouraging viewers to read the piece.

    "When somebody raises the issue of race and you call them a racist, when they're suffering from the ills of racism, it shows that you're not really capable or willing to have an honest conversation," he said. "So that's what we're dealing with."

    To move beyond those types of conversations, Jones called for people to talk more and to truly listen more. "Don't be like a Tucker Carlson," he said Tuesday.

    And, Jones said, it's important to be honest about your views. It doesn't matter if you're at the table, if you're repeating the ideas people "at the table" have been discussing for years, which can take a "certain level" of integrity or courage.

    "At the end of the day, we're trying to build a world where all of our children can enter it with more safety, decency, dignity and humanity," Jones said. "We're not doing that? We're doing something wrong."

    So, will Jones consider appearing on Carlson's show again?

    "I'm like Ali. I feel like I'm the heavyweight champion. I take all comers anytime, anywhere," Jones said, smiling. "... You gotta ask Brother Tucker that. That's his show, man."
     
  3. Winston Smith

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    First, I loved “I Am Not Your Negro” and have given copies to friends as gifts. But Brother should have avoided the interview. This isn’t the age of William F. Buckley and the old Firing Line show on PBS where a liberal would get a fair debate with an intelligent conservative (since Jones referenced Ali)


    Fox News is an infantile echo chamber. When you go on Carlson’s (or any Fox) show, their viewers (unlike Buckley’s in the day) aren’t there for nuance and dialogue and new ideas, they are tuning in to get a reinforcement of their preconceived beliefs about “uppity niggers” and MAGA. That’s why you (generally) don’t see folk like Ta’Nehisi Coates go on these programs as it’s a waste of time.

    Calling Tucker “brother” wins you no moral points with these people. If they considered the real teachings of Jesus they wouldn’t support a unashamed liar narcissist as president (“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”); or alleged pedophiles for Alabama senate seats (“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like unto whitewashed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.”). In his heart of hearts, I bet even MLK knew he wasn’t converting some rabid, racist white southerners with his talk of brotherhood, so much as establishing a documented and codified record of their reactions to peaceful protest for the world and future generations to see.

    This is why Baldwin used the phrase “moral monsters”. He was a child preacher at one point and knew the white, Christian Bible well. Therefore, if one is going to use the Bible or US Constitution as moral baselines, then intentionally and with malice afore thought do the opposite of what you profess to believe (slavery, lynchings, genocide, deliberate economic and political disenfranchisement, etc.) then you are not just a hypocrite but a monster (defined by OED as “
    5. A person of repulsively unnatural character, or exhibiting such extreme cruelty or wickedness as to appear inhuman; a monstrous example of evil, a vice, etc.”). So Baldwin wasn’t name calling, he was pointing out objective facts about a population’s demonstrated behaviors and actions.

    TLDR: Blacks and White Liberals going on Fox are, in the end, no better than conservatives who get suckered by Sacha Baron Cohen. Your narcissistic need to be on camera allows the interviewer to use your time and being to craft the interviewer’s narrative, not your own.
     
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