On -isms: James Baldwin

By | Thursday, February 02, 2017 Leave a Comment
This weekend sees the opening of I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary about the history of race relations in the United States, largely through writer James Baldwin's own knowledge and recollections of various civil rights leaders. It's based off an unfinished manuscript by Baldwin, and makes heavy use of recordings of him.

Someone had posted the trailer for the movie on Facebook a couple weeks ago, and the first response that came up was from someone asking who the guy who was shown at the start of the clip and did all of the talking. While they don't expressly say "This is James Baldwin" in the clip, it's pretty apparent that's who it is. But, even after identifying Baldwin by name, the original responder still had no clue who he was until someone pointed to his Wikipedia entry.

I don't say this to mock that individual. I suspect most people in the States have never heard Baldwin's name before. I know I hadn't until only a few years ago. As far as the majority of America is concerned, the Civil Rights movement consisted of entirely Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe, among those who went out of their way to learn something outside of their classrooms, you could add Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and (recently) John Lewis. Names like Baldwin, Huey Newton, E. D. Nixon, Medgar Evers, Whitney Young, and who knows how many others simply don't get mentioned at all.

I've mentioned before how I think more comic biographies of Black luminaries need to be made. Today, I want to make a special call-out to suggest someone make one of James Baldwin. That people like him are so widely unknown, I think, is a large part of the problem today, where people don't listen -- don't want to listen -- to views and experiences that don't closely reflect their own. I'm not about to claim a biographic comic about Baldwin is going to bring peace to the world, but it sure would help in its understanding.
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