The Civil Rights Movement that began in the late 1950’s was a struggle to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to primarily African American citizens of the United States. In the end, African-Americans won basic rights long denied to them, as well as inspired other discriminated groups to fight for their own rights, which had a deep effect on American society. Many blacks took part in this movement, whether it was through protesting or holding demonstrations. However, some blacks used writing as a means of contributing. James Baldwin published Stranger in the Village as a means of expressing his views of African-American racism. As a result, their efforts helped set the foundation for equal rights among blacks for generations to come. Although the basic needs were met, there is still a lot to be done today.
In Stranger in the Village, Baldwin expressed how common he found racism within a remote Swiss village, which is thousands of miles away from the white-supreme America.
“It did not occur to me – possibly because I am an American – that there could be people anywhere who had never seen a Negro. There was yet no suggestion that I was human: I was simply a living wonder.” 1Baldwin was stunned at the fact that he alone could bring such discomfort toward the villagers and how they couldn’t perceive him as another ordinary human being but rather a figure to be amazed by. However, Baldwin is even more shocked to hear the local children shout “Neger! Neger!” at him and treated him as a social outcast.
“It must be admitted that in the beginning I was too far too shocked to have any real reaction.” 2Here, Baldwin felt very uncomfortable upon hearing those comments and furthered feeling inferior to those of the villagers. Using racial slurs such as “nigger”, is very offensive to most people and they usually will not forget it in the distant future. Later on, Baldwin returns to the village, where he is no longer a stranger who is a living wonder. However, he goes and implied that racism is still surrounding the people of the village.
“But some of the men have accused le sale negre – behind my back – of stealing wood and there is already in the eyes of some of them that peculiar, intent, paranoiac malevolence which one sometimes surprises in the eyes of American white men when, out walking with their Sunday girl, they see a Negro male approach.” 3Whether or not the children are shouting “Neger!” at Baldwin out of fun and amusement or the women glancing with a unique grin, it is considered racism and will forever be forged in the lives of people.
During Baldwin’s experience in the Swiss village, Baldwin began to develop his opinion on the relationship between whites and blacks. Baldwin tried to get across to the reader that whites did everything they could to prevent blacks from establishing equal status and identity. As a result, racial slurs were created as a means of reminding those “inferior” racial groups that they were below the white majority.
“For the history of the American Negro…that the question of his humanity and of his rights…became a burning one for several generations of Americans, so burning a question that it ultimately became on of those used to divide the nation. It is out of this argument that the venom of the epithet Nigger! is derived.” 4The strong notion that blacks are an inferior race and supposed to be looked down upon caused that belief to be spread across the world. From there, young children in near-remote villages in Switzerland for example learn the word “nigger” and apply it, further helping white-supremacy in America fulfill its purpose: to degrade any group that may challenge the white race. Because of such exposure, “…the world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.” 5, which is proven in the 21st century society.
The statement “…it is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today” 6 proves true in today’s society. Much has changed since the 1950’s and the end of the civil rights movement. Segregation within public school systems and public transportation has been eliminated, blacks have an equal right to vote, and numerous anti-discrimination laws have been put into effect. One can say that life today is more pleasant than that of the 1950s. However, it is crucial to note that racism is far from eliminated in society. Although the major step of equal rights has been set, judgment of people based on the color of their skin still exists.
An example of such views may come across when applying for a job. If a black person with lower credentials than that of a white person who applied for the same job as the white person, then the white person would most likely get the job because of his/her better credentials. The black person would then scream racism because they cannot accept the fact that their shortcomings was the cause of them not receiving the job.
Another example of racism would be in the movie “Crash”. In one scene, a white couple had just been threatened at gunpoint by two black men and had their car stolen. They return home and immediately change the lock on the doors as a means of feeling safe. The wife insists on changing the locks again in the morning, but the husband refuses, saying there is no point. An argument ensues and eventually, it is revealed the reason she wanted the locks changed was because the person changing the locks at the moment is perceived as a gangster due to his shaved head and tattoos across his back. The wife was afraid that the “gangster” will give a set of keys to his “homie-gangbangers” and they’ll come back and finish the job, but in reality, the so called “gangster” is actually a caring single father earning a living. Therefore, Baldwin’s argument is still evident as today as it was in the 1950s. However, instead of the white man not recognizing the other as an equal, it is now various races not recognizing various other races as equals.
A stronger view of racism would be the numerous factions that had been created over the course of time. One of the most infamous ones would be Nazism in Europe. Nazism belief was that among the white race and the Aryans, they form the elite “master race” destined to rule and enslave inferior races like the Slavs. But in order to fulfill their destiny, the Germans must first shake off foreign political and cultural ideas and purge themselves of “inferior blood.” The rise of Nazism in Germany resulted in the killing of millions of Jews and other “non-Aryans” in the Holocaust. It was one of the greatest crimes against humanity recorded in history. Another faction would be the Klu Klux Klan.
The Ku Klux Klan is one of these groups that were formed by people who were angered by the increase of diversity. They had an anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic as well as an anti-immigrant viewpoint that proved destructive during their years of operation and were noticed for their horrible acts of violence that they called nighttime rides. These attacks included murder, rape and beatings. Although the problem has weakened in strength over time due to events such as the civil rights movement, a permanent solution is yet to be found.
Although some forms of racism is actually an intentional act of one racial group discriminating against another, there are now more cases of racism in which racism is not involved at all. Many minority racial groups use the term “racism” as a means of an excuse rather than the actual meaning. For example, trapped evacuees in New Orleans, who were mostly black, during Hurricane Katrina, said that “if most of Katrina’s victims were white, relief would’ve arrived sooner”, implying racism was involved. However, the people of New Orleans were given early notice of Hurricane Katrina as well as mandatory evacuation plans. The people who remained chose to stay and were not forced to. They are merely using racism as an excuse for their lack in judgment.
Another example of using racism as an excuse would be found in the movie “Crash”. Anthony, who was one of the two men that threatened the white couple at gunpoint and stole their car, said prior to that that white people do not treat them as equals. He continues to use the “race” card as an excuse for his actions. The purpose of Baldwin’s Stranger in the Village was to expose racism and help setup the process of eliminating such a threat to society. However, if society uses such a threat as an advantage, racism will never be eliminated.
In conclusion, James Baldwin produced Stranger in the Village to provide a vessel in which the conception of racism is needed to be eliminated from the world. Although his works influenced the civil rights movement in the 1950s, it is still not enough to eliminate racism as a whole. Racism is still seen in today’s world in many forms. Overcoming racism and prejudice is difficult and will need to take time. However, people cannot change if they do not learn from the past and correct their mistakes.
Courtney from Study Moose
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